I know when I first started hearing about "superspreaders" I had the impression that there were certain individuals who somehow were capable of spreading the Wuhan virus more easily and widely than others. Of course that's not the case at all--the phenomenon of "superspreading" isn't about individuals. It's about social settings, very specific circumstances that are particularly conducive to spreading the infection.
The author of the article, Jonathan Kay, focuses on how major outbreaks--SSEs--of the Covid19 disease have occurred. And what he found by studying 54 examples around the world tends to strongly confirm the "6 feet/ten minute rule". The bottom line is that it's very unlikely that you'll catch the virus from casual contact. Infection requires fairly close and prolonged contact. These excerpts--taken out of context-- ill give you an idea of what he's talking about:
In fact, the truly remarkable trend that jumped off my spreadsheet has nothing to do with the sort of people involved in these SSEs, but rather the extraordinarily narrow range of underlying activities.
... all seem to have involved the same type of behaviour: extended, close-range, face-to-face conversation—typically in crowded, socially animated spaces.
With few exceptions, almost all of the SSEs took place indoors, where people tend to pack closer together in social situations, and where ventilation is poorer. (It is notable, for instance, that the notorious outbreak at an Austrian ski resort is connected to a bartender and not, say, a lift operator.)
Some of the examples may surprise you a bit, but reflection will show that they do fall into that pattern. Truly crowded public conveyances may fall into that category as well, but in the US that's very much the exception in daily life throughout most of the country. Does that explain what I mean by "human geography" in the US being different? As offering more protection? This isn't to say that this virus isn't highly dangerous, but might it be more manageable for much of this country than expert opinion suggests?
Helpfully, Kay goes on to contrast those examples of activities that seem conducive to superspreading with other common activities that, at first glance, you might take to be conducive to infection but which, in practice, appear not to be.
It’s worth scanning all the myriad forms of common human activity that aren’t represented among these listed SSEs: watching movies in a theater, being on a train or bus, attending theater, opera, or symphony (these latter activities may seem like rarified examples, but they are important once you take stock of all those wealthy infectees who got sick in March, and consider that New York City is a major COVID-19 hot spot). These are activities where people often find themselves surrounded by strangers in densely packed rooms—as with all those above-described SSEs—but, crucially, where attendees also are expected to sit still and talk in hushed tones.
The world’s untold thousands of white-collar cubicle farms don’t seem to be generating abundant COVID-19 SSEs—despite the uneven quality of ventilation one finds in global workplaces. This category includes call centers (many of which are still operating), places where millions of people around the world literally talk for a living. (Addendum: there are at least two examples of call-centre-based clusters, both of which were indicated to me by readers after the original version of this article appeared—one in South Korea, which overlaps with the massive Shincheonji Church of Jesus cluster; and the other in Jamaica.)
These are pretty specific observations that seem to me to be very relevant to any discussion on reopening. If this interests you, you may want to compare the information Kay has come up with with the views expressed by Michael Osterholm in an inteview with Mika and Joe:
The interview is almost 15 minutes long and through most of it Osterholm is talking about the certainty that there's more bad news ahead, that this is a war and not a battle, that we're in it for the long term, that the virus will be back in the fall. Osterholm is a highly regarded public health and epidemiology specialist with a vast amount of practical experience. I've cited him numerous times in the past. Nevertheless, you may want to try to square what he says with Kay. In the final segment, starting around 11:30, Osterholm is pressed on "opening up." He has some good things to say, but he speaks only in generalities whereas Kay offers some pretty specific ideas.