Greeting Customs and The Spread Of COVID-19: An Informal Analysis

Greeting Customs and The Spread Of COVID-19: An Informal Analysis
Parvathy Hariharan

From the Nested Knowledge Team

Greeting Customs and The Spread Of COVID-19: An Informal Analysis

What do data experts do when stuck at home in a pandemic? Analyze more data from the outbreak, of course. We asked our team at Nested Knowledge some interesting questions to explore the connections between social behavior and spread of the novel coronavirus.

Our first question: Do different ways of cultural greetings play a role in how the COVID-19 spreads? For example, in some countries, shaking hands is common, whereas in others, bowing or other non-contact based forms of greeting are common. In other cultures, some of these customs are combined as well.  Our analysts used this shared datasheet of statistics on COVID-19 cases and mortality, which summarizes the raw data made available based on a range of sources here, including cases and deaths by country and population.

Some disclaimers to remember: Pandemic infection rates are complex issues with a lot of variable factors. Every country has different population densities, timelines for the pandemic, varying diagnostic capabilities, differing standards for tracking patients and quality of healthcare in addition to how much social distancing is recognized and followed. Due to those considerations, our statisticians do not perform inferential statistics due to the potential impact of confounding variables, However, one thing that we do know is human contact spreads the virus faster, and so cultures with greetings that have some form of physical contact *could* be more susceptible to a higher rate of COVID19 infection.  Using this data, our experts from Nested Knowledge used simple summary statistics presented here and in the figure below.

Some key results from the analysis:

  • Countries that bow or nod in greeting seem to have lower infection and mortality rates than other countries.
  • Countries with handshaking, kissing, and embracing have higher rates of infection and mortality.
  • The highest rates of mortality are associated with countries in which multiple kisses are the norm of greeting.
  • “No touching” does not seem to match bowing or nodding in country-level infection and mortality rates. Sweden is one example of a country with a primary greeting form that involves no touching but high COVID-19 rates due to other factors and policies, possibly contributing to this finding.

This figure uses the averages of both the percentage cases and percentage mortality for each of the different forms of the greetings. The percentages represented in the figure above are the percentages of the total population. Please also note that these observations do not represent an opinion that greeting methods are better or worse in any way, and that expert recommendations (not ours) on social activity and social distancing should be the central guide in behavior during this crisis.

The key takeaway is that social distancing and strategies that limit physical contact — regardless of country or culture —continue to be effective to minimize the spread of infection as demonstrated in many places. For several examples, this article shows the data from California and Washington, while here is another article showing the data from Hong Kong.

As the scientific community rallies around to fight the pandemic, we encourage data analytics experts and interested scientists can use our data sheet to build their data models; you can “mirror” it in your own Google Sheet using the ImportRange function.  We hope that this can be a start for researchers to pool data and construct their own analysis on factors related to population, socioeconomics, culture, and other datasets.