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Protests and demonstrations not to blame for spike in coronavirus cases, study says

By The Numbers

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Despite the thousands of comments on social media suggesting otherwise, nationwide protests have not caused the recent spike in coronavirus cases, a new study shows.

Published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, a study of protests around more than 300 of the largest cities in the United States found no evidence of a direct connection between COVID-19 spread and the protests.

Using data from the Centers for Disease Control and the Center for Health Economics & Policy Studies at San Diego State University, as well as other state and local entities, researchers found that 281 of the country’s 315 largest cities in the U.S. had protests while 34 did not.

More than 36 percent of protests had more than 1,000 people in attendance.

Data shows that there was an average of about 624 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people between May 15 and June 20. The average day-to-day COVID-19 case increase over that time frame was just over 215 cases, or more than seven per 100,000 people.

During the timeframe of the study, the slope of cases “is almost linear, which suggests that the rate of COVID-19 case growth is relatively constant over our sample period,” the study says.

Cell phone tracking data from SafeGraph, Inc., included in the research, shows that there was a rise in social distancing – likely of people who wanted to avoid areas of protests – that appears about three days following the beginning of a protest. It then continues to level off and decline after about a week of protesting.

“We find no evidence that net COVID-19 case growth differentially rose following the onset of Black Lives Matter protests, and even modest evidence of a small longer-run case growth decline,” the study reads.

Dr. Jon Thogmartin, a Tampa Bay area medical examiner, told WFLA earlier this week it appears the virus has a hard time being transmitted outdoors.

“I’m a big observer of empirical evidence. Look at New York City’s numbers. They have not gone up. What has been happening in New York City? They’ve had protests. Those people are out on the streets, no social distancing, right up against each other. Philadelphia had a sea of people right next to each other outdoors, most with masks and they have not seen an increase,” he said. “If that’s not empirical evidence for outdoors not being a risk and mask-wearing working, I don’t know what it is. As opposed to (Florida,) we open bars and restaurants, what do we get? We get a big wave of the demographic that goes to bars and restaurants.”

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