Most people with coronavirus don't spread it. Why do a few infect many?

As for the first question, doctors have observed that viruses can multiply to bigger numbers inside some people than others. It’s possible that some people become virus chimneys, blasting out clouds of pathogens with each breath.

Some people also have more opportunity to get sick, and to then make other people sick. A bus driver or a nursing home worker may sit at a hub in the social network, while most people are less likely to come into contact with others — especially in a lockdown.

Dr. Nelson suspects the biological differences between people are less significant. “I think the circumstances are a lot more important,” she said. Dr. Lloyd-Smith agreed. “I think it’s more centered on the events.”

A lot of transmission seems to happen in a narrow window of time starting a couple days after infection, even before symptoms emerge. If people aren’t around a lot of people during that window, they can’t pass it along.

And certain places seem to lend themselves to superspreading.