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Influencer II

Networking Theory and Superspreader Events

Recently there has been a great deal of concern about the exact interpretation of rules about how many people you can have at your dinner party, or wedding, or funeral, or school classroom (or funeral following a dinner party). Journalists are tasking medical experts for precise numbers. People are saying they won’t follow “the rules” because they aren’t clear. That’s kind of like saying that you won’t wear warm clothes when you go out because the weather forecast is predicting five to thirty millimetres of rain, and that isn’t explicit enough.


Very few people understand formal, mathematical, networking theory, including many of those who work in the field of networking. This seems to be the basis of a great deal of the misunderstanding or objection to limitations on gathering numbers.


First of all, the more people you are in contact with, the greater your risk of getting this (or any other communicable) disease. The closer the contact, the greater the risk. The longer the contact, the greater the risk. This is basic. Location, duration, relation.


In regard to numbers, “the rules” are different in different places. And they are “best guess” advice. Nobody can say that a dinner party of six is safe, but a dinner party of seven will result in someone getting CoVID. However, let’s take six as an example. You can have a dinner party with five other people. That’s probably OK. But if you then have another five people over for dinner the next night, and then five more over the night after that, by the end of two weeks (which is a good period to consider because it is widely acknowledged as the rough estimate of when most people will be infectious) you will have had dinner with seventy people. Six people might be relatively safe. Seventy people is definitely getting dangerous. Keeping your individual party small is not terribly safe if you keep having a lot of different parties.


And that’s just basic numbers, even before we start to add in the real networking aspects. If you have five people over for dinner, were each of them out to dinner with five other people the night before? You now have indirect contact with twenty-five people with your small dinner party. And if we go back to the day before that, you then have third-party contact with one hundred and twenty-five people. (By the time we get back two weeks, you are almost exceeding the population of the planet.) In terms of sexually transmitted infections, it is often said that whenever you have non-reproductive gender-based activity with someone, you have non-reproductive gender-based activity with everyone they ever had non-reproductive gender-based activity with. (Stupid "community" pr0n filter.)  That is the way to think about how safe your small party is.


And that’s just dinner. If anyone in any of those circles plays football, that adds contact with twenty-five more people, closely, and breathing very heavily, for every practice, and fifty for every game. Where do any of those people work? And, if still working, does their work environment involve people/not many people, masks/no masks, partitions/no partitions?


And then there are the “bubbles.” Originally, bubbles referred to your household, and the people you couldn’t avoid having contact with. Then people started to talk about expanding the bubbles, so that you could pick one other family, or household, to “bubble” with, to safely (and even that’s questionable) expand your social circle. After all, if you are taking precautions, and the one other family is taking precautions, then it should be reasonably safe.


The thing is, when talking about expanding the bubbles, people immediately forgot that “one other” aspect. “One other” family might be safe. It’s manageable. You know what’s going on in that “one other” family. But as soon as you get beyond “one other,” all bets are off. If you bubble with only two other bubbles, and each of them bubbles with two others, then indirectly you are connected with four other bubbles. And if each of them is doing two bubbles, then at third hand ...


Most of us humans aren’t good at numbers. We can usually “see” seven items. Anything more than that is just “a lot,” and we have only a vague idea of how big anything is beyond that. By dint of practice, we learn arithmetic, but, aside from a relative few, it never really comes naturally to us. And exponential growth in numbers is something that seems to be beyond our immediate comprehension. This becomes very dangerous when we are faced with having to make decisions, literally life and death decisions, about how big of a network, and how many contacts, are “safe,” when every additional contact increases the risk. That is why public health agencies try to provides rules with specific numbers. The thing is, those numbers are estimates. They are not perfect. That’s why there is so little agreement between them. And each jurisdiction has slight differences in environment and situation, which also modifies the numbers. So many people think that, if the numbers don’t agree, then you can just ignore the rules.


The thing is, the public health agencies, and their calculations, may not be perfect. But they are based on work, and facts, and study, and expertise that the agencies have, and you don’t. Their guesses may be guesses, but they are better than yours. Follow the rules. Look for accommodation, not loopholes.


Now go wash your hands.


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2 Replies
Newcomer II

 Good article!  I hope more folks take the opportunity to read it!

Community Champion

But what happens when you include the statistics of non-superspreader events? Right now everyone is focusing on these so-called "super spreader events", but there have been many events that were not superspreader events. They focus on spreading the fear that "You might get infected and kill off old people!" As an example, I coach high school volleyball. We have had over 20 games (20-50 people at each of these) in different locations in several states. We have been at two tournaments that had over 250+ people at them. We have had ZERO OUTBREAKS. We are not aware of ONE infection from any of these events. But this virus is SO DEADLY that you can be infected and not even know it! You may not even have symptoms! 


If we look at how the US handled this, several state governors (notice I left out the political affiliation of these govs to avoid this turning into a political discussion) handled this poorly by sending INFECTED COVID patients INTO nursing homes. In all of the nursing homes I have been in to visit my elderly friends and relatives, they can BARELY handle the patients they have correctly, let alone handle infectious people! Why would you make such a boneheaded decision? Most of these patients rarely move out of their rooms, so adding suddenly mobile, infected patients to this scenario can cause it to spread rapidly. This move alone accounted for 40-50% of the COVID-deaths in the US. Another portion of those "claimed" covid deaths are greedy hospitals trying to get federal reimbursement money by claiming that someone who simply had COVID, died from in it, instead of the true fact that they died WITH it, but it was not the cause. Another portion of these people had pre-existing conditions that would have made dealing with any disease (flu, pneumonia, etc.) harder. So what is the true number of deaths? We may never know.  I personally know of ONE person that reportedly died of COVID. He was in his 80's (already over the average life span), he was overweight (so already had hypertension issues), he had diabetes, and may have other health issues I wasn't aware of. So did the COVID really kill him or would have a bad cold or flu infection got him anyways?


Your networking theory is an interesting story and I would be interested in seeing if we could ever get the "real" numbers to work with. Then we could determine what is really happening...