The Plague: The Imminent Danger (and increasing threat) of the “Super Spreader” Phenomenon

Commentary by Paul JJ Payack

    Paul JJ Payack

There is a very real and imminent threat of the emergence of “Super Spreaders” from the coronavirus pandemic.  This threat appears to be largely overlooked in an analysis of the news media recently completed by Austin-based Global Language Monitor, the data research company.

This risk of the emergence of ‘super spreaders’ has been significantly heightened  by three factors:  the gradual re-opening of the American economy, people flocking to summertime activities after Memorial Day, and the mass protests that have arisen since the death of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis Police Department on May 25th, 2020.  

Official statistics concerning the number of protesters have not been officially tallied, but it is reasonable to assume that there have been more than 1,000,000 to 1,500,000 participating in the US-based protests with another 500,000 in the rest of the world. The period of the protests continues lasted about two weeks ending with the march on Washington, on June 6, 2020.  Many participated on multiple days, multiplying chances of exposure.  

There has been significant research in the clustering and superspreader phenomena particularly since the emergence of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2).

On-going research, such as “Clustering and superspreading potential of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) infections in Hong Kong” are currently in the process of peer review,  This and other similar studies are being posted online before the completion of the peer review process because of the severity of the on-going crisis.

The study suggests that most new cases of Covid-19 are propagated by ‘superspreaders’ and not by direct contact or one-on-one transmission.   Researchers assessed more than 1,000 infections in Hong Kong between January 23 and April 28.   The authors used intense contact tracing to determine the manner in which persons were infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19.   Other researchers have found that some 20% of Covid-19 carriers are responsible for about 80% of disease transmissions

Scientists tracking the new coronavirus’ spread have generally focused on two numbers:  reproduction number (Rο) pronounced ‘R-nought), which represents the average number of new infections caused by a single infected person. The second is called the dispersion factor (k), a number indicating the likelihood that a particular disease will spread in clusters.

Without any social distancing, the new coronavirus’ R-number, according to the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST), is around 2.6 - 3.5 

This is where the K factor, measuring dispersion, comes into play. As opposed to the R number, the lower the lower the K number, the more likely it is the virus is propagated by small group of people.

Recent evidence concerning super spreading events abounds:  a meeting of pharmaceutical executives in Boston;  a house party in Westport, Connecticut; and a choir practice in Washington State, among many others.  Each of these smaller events resulted in the transmission of the virus to scores or hundreds of individuals.

Perhaps the most well-known of the current crop of superspreaders is the unnamed bartender at an Austrian Ski Resort.  Contact tracing found some 1300 infections in a number of countries traced to this particular transmitter.  Infections were traced to Iceland, Norway, Austria, and Germany.

Also of note is the finding that the key method of transmission appears to be exercising one’s lungs:  talking, singing, shouting, and speech-giving.  This makes any large gathering problematic in the extreme; whether cheering at a Trump rally, singing on a beach or shouting at a protest.

There is some concern that the fact of the potential exponential progression of the transmission of Covid-19. is not being widely discussed in the media, as shown below.  

The first graphic shows that as the Coronavirus Rapidly Spread in January, the pandemic that would ultimately take the lives of some 100,000 Americans by Labor Day, was treated as an after thought, the News Media was Focused on the Impeachment of President  Trump by a 10:1 Margin (Source: Google Trends).  

The second graphic shows that after the killing of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis Police on May 25, the news media, overlooked the potential  for the exponential growth of the virus led by the superspreader phenomenon.  The ratio was 2:1 protests vs. Covid-19 stories, with virtually no mention of the inherent danger of the superspreader phenomenon.


According to Preliminary Estimation of the Basic Reproduction Number of Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) in China, “The mean estimate of R0 for the 2019-nCoV ranges from 2.24 to 3.58, and is significantly larger than 1” 

This is especially troubling since a recent article in the New York Times,  an epidemiologist  opined  about the number of infections that could be attributed to the recent protests are based on his assumption that  “Over several weeks, as each infected person infected just under one other person on average — the current U.S. transmission rate — those infections would in turn lead to 15,000 to 50,000 more, and 50 to 500 eventual deaths”.   The article does not mention the possibility of the Superspreader Phenomenon.

If the effective R nought rate is indeed closer to that found in the HKUST study and if superspreaders lurk in the midst of these crowds,  both of which seem likely, than the number of infections would increase by a factor of ten, or more.

The New York Times article concluded that “Societal benefit of continued protests must be weighed against substantial potential impacts to health.”  According to the CDC,  some 60% of those deaths would be suffered by persons of color.

In another study, Clustering and superspreading potential of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) infections in Hong Kong,  Benjamin  Cowling of Princeton University, one of the study coauthors, told Business Insider, “Superspreading events are happening more than we expected, more than what could be explained by chance. The frequency of superspreading is beyond what we could have imagined”.

Study the figure below: Transmission network associated with a single wedding exposure subsequently linked to a preceding social gathering and local source exposure.  Again, the graphic was based on contact tracing in Hong Kong.

From:  Clustering and superspreading potential of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) infections in Hong Kong

Now consider the timely and very real example  of  the infamous Philadelphia Parade at the height of the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918.


A huge parade was scheduled in the summer of 1918, the height of the Spanish Flu epidemic, to take place in the heart of Philadelphia.  It purpose was to raise money to support the ‘dough boys’ that had recently been shipped off to Europe to end the stalemate of the horrific ‘trench warfare’.  

Some 200,000 people thronged Broad Street on parade day, along a two-mile route; they cheered as the procession passed along the route.  The unintended result:  within a few days, every hospital bed in he city was occupied.  Within a week, nearly 3,000 died.  Ultimately some 20,000 would die.

The parade was for worthy cause:  The ending of the Great War.  World War I ended with a death toll of some 20,000,000.

Was participating in this colossal event, showing one’s commitment to the cause, to help change the course of world events worth the risk?  Most, at the time,  would have answered yes.


For Other Articles on Covid-19, click here. 

Coronavirus Calendar: TrendTopper Institute

CoronaVirus Calendar

GLM has created a which is based on published findings in the journal Lancet and the University of Hong Kong. We have created our own unpublished algorithm based on the official releases of China’s National Health Commission in which the numbers are much lower but still are cause for alarm. #china 



Coronageddon: Words of the Pandemic You Need to Know

The Bottom Line: “turbulent gas clouds and respiratory pathogen emissions pose a threat to the public even without the presence of a host. In other words: the longer an individual is outside unprotected, the higher the contraction risk,” said MIT associate professor Lydia Bourouiba.

‘Words of the Pandemic’ glossary and explainer has been released by the Global Language Monitor. 

“As with other global and significant events, GLM has assembled ‘The Words of the Pandemic’ explainer, a glossary of the essential terms the educated layperson needs to know to better understand the significance of the Coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic as it unfolds.” said Paul JJ Payack, President and Chief Word Analyst of the Global Language Monitor. 

The “Words of the Pandemic” explainer will be continuously updated. 
Below is the list of currently defined terms.

Term      Definition

Asymptomatic – Those who test positive for Covid-19 who present no immediate symptoms.

Black Death — The most devastating pandemic recorded in human history, resulting in the deaths of an estimated 75-to-200 million people in Eurasia, peaking in Europe from 1347 to 1351.

CDC — Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  Located in Atlanta, Georgia, the CDC is part of the US Department of Health and Human Services.

Contagion — The definition of contagion is an infectious disease spread through contact, or the transmission of a disease from one person to another through contact, or the spread of a bad or harmful idea or practice

Corona – A crown or anything resembling a crown.  Also, the ring of highly charged ions surrounding the Sun that is visible during a total eclipse.  Under an electron microscope, the coronavirus outer surface resembles a crown.  Before the invention of the electron microscope, pandemic had more prosaic names such as the Black Death or Spanish Flu.

Covid-19 – The disease caused by the n-coronavirus-19 virus.  Officially named:  SARS-CoV-2.  n-coronavirus-19 is the medical classification of the current pandemic.

Endemic — A medical condition, regularly found a particular group or population.

Epicenter – The precise center of an earthquake or activity, or phenomenon.  The epicenter of Covid-19 is Wuhan China.

Epidemic — An outbreak of disease that spreads quickly and affects many individuals at the same time.

Epidemiology — the branch of medicine that investigates the causes and control of epidemics.

Exponential Growth — Growth whose rate becomes ever more rapid in proportion to the growing total number or size.

Flatten the Curve — Keeping people apart in time and space with social distancing measures, self-isolation and actual quarantine decreases opportunities for transmission.  The graphic below illustrates the effects of flattening the curve — a steep peak indicating a surge of coronavirus outbreak in the near term; the other has a flatter slope, indicating a more gradual rate of infection over a longer period of time.  The gentler curve results in fewer people infected at the beginning of an epidemic.  In effect, lessening the probability of a ‘’surge’ that would inundate a hospital system, as was recently occurred in Northern Italy.  The idea is to provide more time for a healthcare system to ramp up supplies, develop new medicines, and medical procedures.

Ground Zero — The location where the first case occurred, another term for ‘epicenter’.

H1N1 — The current strain of H1N1 consists of genes already found in existing variations of swine, avian and human flu viruses.

Inanimate Objects – So-called “seeds of disease” are able to transfer disease from one person to another.  In that new NEJM study, here’s the finding on coronavirus:  The coronavirus that causes covid-19 “was detectable … up to four hours on copper, up to 24 hours on cardboard and up to two to three days on plastic and stainless steel.”  Glass such as the ‘Gorilla Glass’ used for smart-phone displays are said to carry the virus for 10-days. 

Incubation Period — The time from exposure to a virus to the appearance of the symptoms.

Influenza — A serious disease caused by viruses that infects the upper respiratory tract.

Influenza Pandemic — A global outbreak of a new influenza ‘A’ virus that is easily transmitted from person-to-person worldwide.

Mutating Virus — In general, any flu virus mutates and evolves mechanisms that enable it to escape the immune defense systems of its victims. Scientists have now identified some six strains of the virus that causes Covid-19. 

Outbreak – Sudden increase in occurrence of disease in a particular place or locality.

Pandemic – an epidemic occurring over a wide geographic area and affecting an exceptionally high proportion of the population. 

Pandemic Phases — WHO has divided pandemics into six phases.  (See Figure.)

Pandemic Phase 1 — Low risk of human cases.  No viruses circulating among animals have been reported to cause infections in humans.

Pandemic Phase 2 — Higher risk of human cases.  An animal influenza virus circulating among domesticated or wild animals is known to have caused infection in humans and is therefore considered a potential pandemic threat.

Pandemic Phase 3 — No or very limited human-to-human transmission.  An animal or human-animal influenza re-assortant virus has caused sporadic cases or small clusters of disease in people but has not resulted in human-to-human transmission sufficient to sustain community-level outbreaks.

Pandemic Phase 4 — Human-to-human transmission of an animal or human-animal influenza reassortant virus able to cause “community-level outbreaks.” Implementation of a rapid pandemic containment operation is warranted. Phase 4 indicates a significant increase in risk of a pandemic.

Pandemic Phase 5 — Evidence of significant human-to-human transmission.  Human-to-human spread of the virus into at least two countries in one WHO region.  While most countries will not be affected at this stage, the declaration of Phase 5 is a strong signal that a pandemic is imminent and that the time to finalize the organization, communication, and implementation of the planned mitigation measures is short.

Pandemic Phase 6 — Efficient and sustained human-to-human transmission. This pandemic phase is characterized by community level outbreaks in at least one other country in a different WHO region in addition to the criteria defined in Phase 5. Designation of this phase indicates that a global pandemic is under way.2q

Pangolin – A scaly anteater; a toothless mammal found in Asia and Africa that is thought to have passed the coronavirus from horse bats to humans.  Pangolins were suspected of being sold in an open-air to be ingested by humans.

Plague – The plague is an infectious disease due to a bacterium called Yersinia pestis. Y. that mainly infects rats and other rodents.

Quarantine – Isolating individuals to prevent the spread of infection diseases.

Quarantine in Place – Isolation for a two-week period after exposure to someone with Covid-19.

R0 — Reproductive value where R0 is the average number of people who will catch the disease from a single infected person, in a population that’s never seen the disease before; if it’s greater than 1, the infection will probably keep spreading, and if it’s less than 1, the outbreak will likely peter out.  New research reviews the basic reproduction number (R0) of the new coronavirus, that is, the number that indicates how transmissible a virus is, and finds that it is much higher than current estimates.  R0 for 2019-nCoV is expected to be around 2–3,

“Ring Around the Rosie” – Globally known children’s rhyme that harkens back to the Bubonic Plague of the Middle Ages.

Shelter in Place – An order to remain safety within the building one already occupies, rather than to evacuate the area or seek a community emergency shelter.

Self-isolate — Anyone with the tell-tale fever or cough has been told to self-isolate entirely for seven days, while other members of their household must do the same for two weeks.

Social Distancing — (See Update Newsflash Atop List) Keeping people apart in time and space with social distancing measures, self-isolation and actual quarantine decreases opportunities for transmission.

Spanish Flu – Some fifty-to-200 million or more died in the 1918 pandemic, up to 200,000 in the US.  Some 30% of the world’s population of 1.5 billion were infected.

Super Spreader — In epidemics, a small number of people can spread a disproportionately large number of infections.

Swine Flu — Officially named swine influenza A (H1N1).

Symptoms — Body aches, fever, headaches, sore throat, body pain, chills and fatigue. Sometimes diarrhea and vomiting.         

Tokyo 2020:  The Games of the XXXII Olympiad – The Summer Olympic Games have been rescheduled to begin on July 23, 2021.

Typhoid Mary — Ms. Mallon was suspected of transmitting typhoid fever to 51 people during the Spanish Flu pandemic (Possibly by serving ice cream with unwashed hands.).

WHO — Located in Geneva, Switzerland, the World Health Organization, is the directing and coordinating authority for health within the United Nations

Zoonotic – Diseases that spread from animals to humans, such as the Covid-19 and Ebola.

About the Global Language Monitor

Austin-Texas-based Global Language Monitor is a data research firm that analyzes and catalogues the latest trends in word usage and word choices, and their impact on the various aspects of culture, with a particular emphasis upon Global English.  For more information, email, visit, or call +1.737.215.7750.