Wednesday, May 20, 2020

The Fascinating Story of the Oscillating Epidemic.

I was surprised, today, to find this graph on Google. What struck me was the evident periodicity in the number of deaths in the US. Most of the deaths take place on Thursdays and Fridays. On the contrary, the minima in the curve are almost always on Sundays. Why don't people die on Sundays?

It may well be just a case of bad reporting. I went on, exploring for more data and I discovered that there is something of a worldwide "beat" that generates a weekly periodicity in the deaths. Here are the data.  In this case, instead, people seem to like to die on Fridays and Saturdays, but they stay more alive on Tuesdays.

Some regions show clear oscillations, such as the Netherlands, as shown here. In the Netherlands, people die mostly on Wednesdays and survive best on Mondays.

Other countries, such as Italy, don't show a clear periodicity in the number of deaths

So, what can we conclude? Well, I think that the hypothesis that it is a reporting problem is the most likely, yet it is a little strange for various reasons. Possibly it is the bad quality of the data that messes things up

But there is another possibility that I have been considering: that the deaths caused by the coronavirus feel the weekly "beat" of the world activities. In other words, people have a weekly rhythm of working and moving around. It is a periodicity that is reflected in the number of social contacts, then reflected in the number of infections, and finally in the number of deaths. It is an internal "clock" of the system that's reflected on its overall behavior, just like the ice ages of the Pleistocene were clocked by the wobbles and the oscillations of Earth's orbit.

That would explain why the oscillations are clearly detectable in the US and in the Netherlands, where the government implemented a rather light lockdown, but not in Italy, where the lockdown was very strict. In Italy, people lost track of the day of the week -- no more working days, no more weekends. So, no periodicity that would be reflected by the coronavirus cases.

Maybe. More work to be done, more than I can do right now, and I think we need better data. But I thought I could propose this chain of thoughts to the readers of "Cassandra's Legacy" Maybe some readers have different and better ideas? In any case, we keep learning new things with this coronavirus!


  1. In the case of Sweden, the oscillations are just due to reporting practice. I cannot show an illustration in the comments, but I shall send it to you by email.

    1. Yes. I looked better at the Swedish data and the case is not so clear cut as I thought. In Sweden, the oscillations are clearly detectable in the new cases, but not in the new deaths. So, I modified the post removing the data. Thanks for your comment!

    2. Ugo, interesting hypothesis. I think however the simplest explanation is indeed the correct one. In UK you see similar oscillations of new cases of infection where people are reported to get infected a lot on Monday and then progressively less until the weekend. The numbers are very small on Saturday and Sunday. Here the explanation of that is all about ot reporting data at the weekend.
      I suspect similarities with Netherlands and US may have to do with similar data gathering and reporting organisations.
      The ncrrased mobility may have a part on that but then you could consider also the reduced number of staff in hospitals to report and certify the death. A complex problem where data collection is critical.

  2. Ugo, I am intrigued by our society's current fascination with epidemiology. I think it has value in part because it's the one aspect of the disease which can be enumerated. In that regard, the most reassuring numbers of course would inform us of high survival rates for sane medical protocols. A 100% survival rate pertains to the people who so far haven't contracted the virus, and that would be the best outcome. But what about those who cross the hospital's threshold into the emergency room? How have they fared?

    On the front line of treatment, one medical group in the USA has achieved a nearly 100% survival rate. Yet their success hasn't made it into the headlines. Maybe the word will spread from Italy, where certainly there is strong motivation to put an end to the pandemic:


    1. As well as survival, we need to consider ongoing health issues resulting from the illness. For example loss of lung function and damage to the heart and other organs. In some cases, blood clots resulting from the virus lead to patients suffering strokes, which as we well know, can have very adverse outcomes. Blood clots can also result in amputation of limbs.

  3. Dr Bardi, correlation is not causation . You understand that ,so I will not amplify . The problem is that this has become another issue where ^ milk the cow before it dies ^ has moved into action . False, contradictory news/ narratives on sources ,causes ,vaccine devolpment, pretreatment, post treatment now contaminate all news . I quit even talking about it , too much ^ smoke and mirrors ^ to arrive at a conclusion . I remain focused on the economic dislocation that this is causing .

  4. It is most likely a reporting issue. You probably use the 'new death' reported per day figure for my country (NL). But in weekends reporting is slower as usual, and our Public health institute (RIVM) now also reports on what date a death occurred. That graph is pretty smooth. In the link you can also see how many new cases occurred. Not surprisingly, weekends and public holidays saw much less confirmed cases since on such days I guess testing is more limited since out of normal working times...

  5. Besides that confusing or confused numbers.
    Right on your page Ugo, there is another excellently written article, titled "A rare glimpse of what the members of the elite think: What are they going to do when things get really tough?"

    Way more answers in there, actually one answer, than in all the confusing actions of "governments" across the globe. And Mr. Sondland statements, make a lot of sense, actually. Abundance, here it is.

    Hannah Arendt is also known for writing about the Eichmann trial.
    Book title in German "Eichmann in Jerusalem. Ein Bericht von der Banalität des Bösen".
    Point being - "Die Banalität des Bösen" -which can be translated as "the banality of evil".
    Witnessing the actions of todays "governments", clearly the banality of evil can be witnessed. Any evil of the past will pale, outright fade, compared to the unfolding evil. I can witness that, at least.

    1. You made me reread that post, where I wrote "It could be much worse: the elite may decide that the problem is just that there are too many people consuming and polluting. Then, they could think of ways to solve it - you guess how." And, in this light, the whole coronavirus story acquires a rather ominous meaning. I am scared myself by the things I wrote.

    2. I doubt that this is the case. I suspect that the number of people left with ongoing health issues from the illness will be greater than the number of deaths. These people will place an additional ongoing burden on medical care systems and will also be less productive. The net result will not decrease the burden on the rich.

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    4. The Club of Rome published a prophecy, they can be very ambiguous, for instance on cause and effect. Kronos received a prophecy that he would be supplanted by his children. He decided to eat them all. You can check Hesiod for the details. The lesson is that you can act to prevent an outcome, but that action can become the cause of that very outcome !



Ugo Bardi is a member of the Club of Rome, faculty member of the University of Florence, and the author of "Extracted" (Chelsea Green 2014), "The Seneca Effect" (Springer 2017), and Before the Collapse (Springer 2019)