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Things We Saw Today: Tracking the COVID-19 Pandemic Through Negative Yankee Candles Reviews

A white unlit candle sits on a wooden table.

It’s our second winter of COVID-19, and for the second year in a row, we’re seeing a strange method of tracking cases: candle reviews.

In the last month or so, a new spate of one-star reviews has appeared on the Yankee Candle website, all complaining about their candles’ lack of scent.

For the unfamiliar, Yankee Candles are known for their extremely powerful scent. Looking through the company’s website, there’s no small number of negative reviews from people saying their candles smell too strong. So while it is possible that some customers want more smell from their candles, there seems to be a more likely explanation for those claiming there is no scent whatsoever coming from the wax.

Seeing as a loss of taste and smell is a common symptom of COVID-19, the “Christmas Cookie” candle customer saying they “can stand right over it and there is no smell” or the one who says she “can’t smell a thing unless I stick my nose practically right on the flame!” might want to get themselves tested.

Incredibly, this also happened around the same time last year, as you can see from that tweet from science illustrator and cartoonist Terri Nelson.

Last December, the Washington Post wrote:

Nelson’s observation, which generated thousands of retweets and likes on the social media site, read like the punchline of a late-night joke. But it caught the attention of Kate Petrova, a research assistant with the Harvard Study of Adult Development at Bryn Mawr College, who decided to test the hypothesis by scraping roughly 20,000 reviews of the most popular scented and unscented candles on Amazon.

“It is rare, at least in my line of work, to stumble upon an anecdotal observation that can be examined using such vast amounts of easily accessible data,” said Petrova, who stressed that this was a personal project with no relation to her research work.

And while this is purely anecdotal, the trends in these “no smell” candle reviews between last holiday season and now also appear to line up with COVID cases with a level of accuracy that’s hard to ignore:

What else did we see out there today?

  • President Biden extended the student loan payment freeze through May 1st. That’s a big weight off of a lot of people’s minds right now but also it would be great if he kept his campaign promise and just canceled that debt already. (via NPR)
  • These supply chain issues have officially gone too far, as Mcdonald’s is facing a french fry shortage in Japan. (via BBC)
  • These dogs get to pick out their own Christmas presents and I love every single one of them!

  • An oral history of Scream on its 25th anniversary. (via The Ringer)
  • Happy Matrix Day!

(image: Christian Mackie from Burst

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Vivian Kane (she/her) is the Senior News Editor at The Mary Sue, where she's been writing about politics and entertainment (and all the ways in which the two overlap) since the dark days of late 2016. Born in San Francisco and radicalized in Los Angeles, she now lives in Kansas City, Missouri, where she gets to put her MFA to use covering the local theatre scene. She is the co-owner of The Pitch, Kansas City’s alt news and culture magazine, alongside her husband, Brock Wilbur, with whom she also shares many cats.