Candles and COVID: There's an Odd Correlation

Negative reviews of scented ones have risen amid the pandemic
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 9, 2022 5:30 PM CST
The Odd Correlation Between Candle Reviews and COVID
   (Getty/Uladzimir Zuyeu)

It might be the weirdest red flag for a public health crisis ever: It seems that negative reviews for scented candles correlate with a spike in COVID cases, notes The apparent reason is that COVID sometimes causes people to lose their sense of smell, meaning that a person with the virus—and perhaps unaware of it—might buy a candle and think they got ripped off. It sounds goofy, but it turns out some hard data backs up the premise, as the Washington Post explained when writing about the phenomenon. “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,” says Kate Petrova, a research assistant at the Harvard Study of Adult Development.

That anecdotal observation came in the form of a snarky tweet back in November that read: “There are angry ladies all over Yankee Candle’s site reporting that none of the candles they just got had any smell at all. I wonder if they’re feeling a little hot and nothing has much taste for the last couple days too." The observation piqued Petrova's interest, and she dug in. As it turns out, reviews for the company's top scented candles consistently had 4 or 4.5 stars before 2020. After the pandemic hit, they lost about a full star. Equally telling: Non-scented candles did not suffer the same fate.

You can see all her charts in this Twitter thread, though Petrova herself cautions that it was more of a "fun exercise" than a rigorous scientific analysis. In its coverage, SFGate notes that more than 1 million people in the US have lost their sense of smell because of the virus. And while this "anosmia" typically goes away, studies suggest that if it's not back in six months, the odds of it coming back at all drop to 1 in 5. In regard to the candles, the post at IFLScience sees a clear takeaway: "If you find you can't smell your candle, it might be best to book a test before sending your disappointing review." (More COVID-19 stories.)

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