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Protests over the death of George Floyd caused no increase in COVID-19: NBER. Politicians who say protests caused the increase in COVID-19 are mistaken or lying.

2020-07-23

George Floyd photo by CNN

According to a paper by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) dated “June 2020” (assembled after June 20, the end date of the collected data) the nationwide street protests/demonstrations following the murder of George Floyd did not result in an increase in COVID-19 cases.  The results of this study directly contradict the assertions of right-wing media, political figures, and a certain president whose name will not be used.

According to the abstract:

Event-study analyses provide strong evidence that net stay-at-home behavior increased following protest onset, consistent with the hypothesis that nonprotesters’ behavior was substantially affected by urban protests.

…we find no evidence that urban protests reignited COVID-19 case growth during the more than three weeks following protest onset.

Whether the protests themselves caused an increase in SARS-COV-2 transmission but they were counterbalanced by “stay at home” behavior, or there simply was no increase, is not clear.  The paper describes a complex analysis of behavior informed by cell-phone data and county-by-county daily COVID case counts.

The net result, however, was that cases did not increase in the worst-affected state, Minnesota, but cases did increase in the least-affected state, Florida.  This is shown by the daily case-count graphs for Minnesota in the New York Times, in which the date of the murder, May 25, was followed by a sustained decrease in case counts which did not pick up again until June 17-19 and did not exceed the case count on May 24 until July 11.

In Florida, new cases started to increase on June 3 and continued without let-up until a peak on July 12.  Since that date, there has been a relative plateau in new cases.  Texas, which had few protests, showed an increase in daily cases in late May, which accelerated in June.   In Tennessee, which saw early protests in Memphis, new case daily rates did not increase until late June.

In any case, as shown by the figures in the paper, protests occurred in every state with a large population, so statewide data are insensitive (except perhaps for Minnesota, which has almost all of its population concentrated in a few cities.)

The NBER study used anonymous cell-phone tracking data to examine people’s movements and ” we demonstrate that cities which had protests saw an increase in social distancing behavior for the overall population relative to cities that did not…”

They evaluated the rate of new cases identified by testing in 315 cities larger than 100,000 population, of which 284 had protests and 31 did not.  The first large cities that experienced demonstrations were Minneapolis, Los Angeles, and Memphis, Tennessee.  Cities that did not have protests included Aurora, Colorado, Hialeah, Florida, and Irving, Texas.

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