Goldman says fewer ‘loss of smell’ Google searches is a positive sign for pandemic

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A woman wearing a face mask smells flower blossoms.

Robert Michael | picture alliance via Getty Images

Goldman Sachs is optimistic that recent public safety measures to contain the spread of the coronavirus are working based on an unusual data source: Google searches for “loss of smell.”

Queries for “loss of smell” on the internet search giant spiked in the week that began March 22 to an intensity reading of 100. That means that U.S.-based searches for the phrase “loss of smell” peaked relative to any other period in the last 12 months during the last full week of March.

Since then, however, Google searches for “loss of smell” have more than halved, a sign Goldman Chief Economist Jan Hatzius says could suggest a fall in official case counts over the next few weeks.

Source: Johns Hopkins University, Kinsa, Google, Goldman Sachs Investment Research

“The latest data on the pace of virus spread are encouraging, suggesting that lockdowns have paid large dividends,” Hatzius wrote Wednesday. “Measures of virus spread based on big data are even more encouraging and suggest that the true number of new cases actually peaked a while ago.”

“Google searches for ‘loss of smell’ — a symptom that has proven an effective way to track the virus spread — have fallen to roughly one-seventh of their peak US level,” he added. “These measures appear to lead the official count of cases confirmed by testing by 2-3 weeks.”

The latest Google search data as cited by Goldman Sachs suggests that U.S. queries for “loss of smell” have fallen to about 15% of their peak level.

Global cases of the coronavirus have reached two million with 2,034,425 infections, according to Johns Hopkins University. About 133,000 have died from COVID-19 around the world, with the U.S. accounting for nearly 28,000 of that total.

State governments across the country have taken unprecedented action to slow the spread of the disease and reduce the daily number of new cases. Those efforts include social distancing rules and the closure of the vast majority of businesses in a select number of states, including New York and New Jersey.

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