THE NEUTRAL ZONE
Despite the U.S. experiencing a potential second wave of infections as coronavirus cases hit record highs, protests may not be to blame. One research paper, awaiting peer review, published by the National Bureau of Economic Research last Thursday states the uptick in cases may be caused by the easing of lockdown restrictions and parties rather than mass gatherings at outdoor protests.
Protests began in the wake of George Floyd’s death, seeing millions in attendance across the country starting May 26 and continuing through today. According to the Pew Research Center, 6% of adults participated in protests across the country. In recent polls by The New York Times, 15 to 26 million people reported attending demonstrations.
The National Bureau of Economic Research study, authored by five researchers across the country, analyzed 315 cities, 281 of which saw protests. The study used cell phone tracking data to measure the net-impact of staying at home during the protests and found that more people stayed at home than attended the protests. The mass gatherings may have helped increase social distancing among non-protestors. At the time of the conclusion of the study, demonstrations started 16 to 21 days before the final collection of data. Based on the average time of 6.7 days before the onset of coronavirus symptoms, the researchers concluded this was sufficient time to record a potential increase in cases.
Some lawmakers have attributed recently-observed coronavirus case increases to those demonstrations. Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Giménez attributed rapidly rising cases in South Florida to “thousands of young people” participating in protests. On Monday, Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves accused the “liberal media” of blaming coronavirus cases on family gatherings.
The effect of Black Lives Matter protests on coronavirus cases, explained – Vox – 6/26/2020
The protests themselves, however, do not seem to be a major source, at least so far. That suggests that people were able to practice their rights to free speech and assembly without contributing to the ongoing pandemic. It could even mean large gatherings outside, with proper precautions like masks and hand-washing, may be safer than we originally thought, bolstering the case for allowing people to socialize outdoors even as restrictions on large indoor settings continue.
Editorial: We still don’t know enough about what’s causing COVID-19 to surge – Los Angeles Times – 7/7/2020
These findings are far from definitive, however. In Los Angeles, demonstrators had trouble getting testing appointments, which could mean that some cases are unknown and uncounted; in New York City, city officials instructed contact tracers not to ask people who tested positive whether they had attended protests, as though ignorance was going to make people safer. Massive gatherings still aren’t a good idea — some protesters did in fact become infected — but there’s no indication so far that the protests were super-spreader events. Being outdoors almost certainly helped.
Anti-police demonstrations may have sparked new coronavirus cases, some cities now acknowledge – Fox News – 7/6/2020
[Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos A.] Giménez “meets several times a week with his team of medical experts,” the spokesperson, Patty Abril, responded in an email. “Those experts have told him that, based on information in our local emergency rooms, the protests were a contributing factor, along with our community letting its guard down and not social distancing or wearing masks, as mandated. Graduation parties, house parties, and restaurants illegally turning into clubs after midnight all contributed to the spike.”
Bars, workplaces, private gatherings fuel Michigan’s recent increases in coronavirus – mlive – 7/6/2020
The reopening of bars has been particularly problematic — so much so that Whitmer announced last week that Michigan bars in most of the Lower Peninsula are once again prohibited from serving alcohol indoors. “Keep in mind our uptick in cases started, oh, five or six days after bars and restaurants re-opened, and there’s an average incubation period of five or six days” for coronavirus, said Linda Vail, Ingham County public-health officer. “Coincidence? Perhaps not.”
Brookings Global on Twitter, 7/6/2020: With protests cropping up in Lebanon, Iraq, India, Peru, and the US, the prospect of social and political unrest appears to be spreading along with the coronavirus, warn @Pfinefine, @SusanReichle, @kristin_lord.
Radley Balko on Twitter, 7/6/2020: There’s a moral argument that the protests are urgent/important enough to overcome the risk of COVID. (The masks help too.) But it’s a big mistake for that argument to come from public health experts. Their credibility w/ the public is critical right now.
Martin Austermuhle on Twitter, 7/6/2020: “We have not seen our new cases report their exposure being linked to mass gatherings,” says D.C. Health director on LaQuandra Nesbitt on whether protests are leading to COVID-19 infections. But she says they can’t be excluded as possible source.
790 KABC on Twitter, 7/6/2020: Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said Wednesday that public protests are likely causing the number of citywide coronavirus cases to spike, just two days after claiming there wasn’t “any conclusive evidence” showing a connection between the two.