June 7, 2020 Reading Time: 4 minutes
A Second Wave at Your Doorstep?

Iran is experiencing a second wave, according to BBC, The Times, The Guardian, Bloomberg, and many outlets. Iran’s “second wave” seems to be declared especially by leftist media.

An article in the Washington Post says:

While the epidemic was initially concentrated in the capital, Tehran, and the holy city of Qom, the new flare-up has largely been centered in Khuzestan province, an oil-rich region in Iran’s southwest.

By car, Khuzestan is more than 400 miles (almost 700 km) from Qom and more than 500 miles (800 km) from Tehran. 

Is it apt to think of the spread of the virus to Khuzestan as a second wave? 

Suppose we have built a sandcastle on the beach and a big wave comes at us. Our sandcastle survives the first wave. Then, a second wave comes at us: Will it survive this time?

That is a natural way to think about a second wave. It is the wave that comes at you, after experiencing a first wave. 

That kind of intuition may be translated into what I will call doorstep geography: For each person, define her “place” on the planet as her doorstep and the immediate environs that she inhabits on a regular basis. Her “doorstep” place will overlap with other people’s places, starting with her housemates. Such doorstep geography is the most intuitive understanding of a “second wave.” 

We all care about all people, even those on the opposite side of the earth. We wish each other well. But people direct their care where it is most effective, and therefore care first about themselves, their families, and loved ones, and then with other people connected to them, declining with associational distance. When people worry about a second wave, they especially worry about another wave coming to their doorstep.

For the people in Khuzestan, is the flare-up a second doorstep wave? No, it’s not. To return to the ocean wave at the beach, it is more like the first wave, which crashed first in Tehran, now crashing in delayed fashion further down the shoreline. It is the first wave now reaching them in Khuzestan. 

If one charted COVID-19 deaths in the Khuzestan province through time, I am confident that it would not show a double peak. Rather, it would now be in its first peak.

Doorstep geography is one way of anchoring the definition of a “wave.” Another is to take a more aggregative point of view, as though a whole country were a living being. Think of the spirit of Iran experiencing waves. This spirit’s doorstep is the boundaries of the entire country.

Or do that for the whole world, the spirit of Earth, or mankind. Its doorstep is the planet.

If you look at the whole world, it would seem that we are basically still in the first wave:

If you look at Iran, the daily death numbers are barely showing a second peak:

But this second-peak kind of “second wave” is not a doorstep second wave for any actual human beings. 

As for Covid cases in Iran, here is a discussion that reinforces the point that neither testing nor the representativeness of those tested is steady through time. That should always be kept in mind. 

Don’t be bamboozled. 

The different formulations of “second wave” are easily conflated. The media sources that favor lockdowns will not take pains to explain that a national-boundaries “second wave” is not a doorstep second wave. They will not take pains because they want to push their political agenda and alarm the public.

My point is not to deny a “second wave.” It is to show that it has multiple meanings, and can be misleading, like “herd immunity.”  

Has a doorstep second wave come to anyone in the world?

Here is new deaths for Stockholm county (län), which is 30 times larger than Stockholm City (for which I could not find a chart like this):

Daily new COVID-19 deaths in Stockholm County (7-days average) (source)

It is essentially single-peaked, a few bumps aside. I suspect that Stockholm City would be even more clearly single-peaked.

On a single-city basis, we will, I suspect, have great difficulty finding distinct multiple peaks, for any city on the entire planet. 

I do not mean to suggest that doorstep second waves will not come. Maybe they will. 

But so far no doorstep second wave has come to anyone on the planet, so far as I know.

Daniel B. Klein

Daniel B Klein

Daniel Klein is professor of economics and JIN Chair at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, where he leads a program in Adam Smith.

He is also associate fellow at the Ratio Institute (Stockholm), research fellow at the Independent Institute, and chief editor of Econ Journal Watch.

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