What candles could tell us about COVID

Before submitting that one-star review for the lousy scented candle you bought that has no scent, you may want to be tested for COVID-19. Yes, in this very strange year, stinky candles may turn out to be our canaries in the coal mine.

An anecdotal study by Kate Petrova, a Harvard Study of Adult Development at Bryn Mawr College research assistant, found that spikes in negative reviews of the candles mirror surges of COVID-19 infections in America. Saying her project was “just a fun exercise in data visualization — not a peer review study,” Petrova has drawn interest nationwide after being featured in a story by The Washington Post.

Drawing on 20,000 reviews of candles, her report shows that after years of ratings in the 4- to 4.5-star range, negative reviews for scented candles have risen dramatically in 2020. Many complaints are for lack of scent. She also found that unscented candle ratings held steady this year, while scented candles experienced a one-star drop.

A symptom of COVID-19 can be loss of smell, even for those who are otherwise asymptomatic. Petrova’s sniff test could mean the virus is far more widespread in America than thought. Or it could prove that Americans have nothing better to do than sit in their candlelit homes and gripe.

This pandemic will be the most researched in history. It is sure to generate all sorts of studies, which will hopefully make the world better prepared for the next coronavirus.

Data will range from the virology of the pandemic to its economic, sociological and psychological impacts. It will be interesting to see what historians have to say about the virus response posted by the world’s richest country, the United States.

That chapter is not finished, but it doesn’t take a candle to see that even on the eve of a vaccination rollout like none before, the pandemic is not going down without a fight.

Color-coded maps provided by online news sites are an easy way to track where COVID-19 is sickening people in the U.S. Most use light yellow to indicate no or few cases and gradually work up to red where the virus is spiking. In April, only a few metropolitan areas were red. Most of the United States was free of the virus, but little by little the red dots began to grow and spread.

Now, much of the country is highlighted by a new darker red that was added as cases reached new highs. Stories of hospital systems being overwhelmed are growing common. Alarmed scientists warn of a bleak winter.

Here in Hawaii, thanks to our remote geographic location, tough decisions by public officials and a lot of sacrifice, we have the lowest weekly cases per capita of any state in America. This is no time to let our guards down for we are far from out of the woods, but for now, once again, an old adage proves true, “Lucky we live Hawaii.”


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