Wednesday, June 24, 2020

The Black Lives Matter Protests Have Taught Us More About The Coronavirus

Even though hundreds of thousands of protesters and police crowded onto the streets, overall social distancing actually strengthened in big cities with major protests.

Protesters march in Washington, DC, on Saturday, June 6. Bill Clark / AP 

More than three weeks after hundreds of thousands of Americans started taking to the streets to protest the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, anticipated surges in COVID-19 cases have not shown up in the cities with the biggest protests.

Some commentators are already speculating that the lack of protest-related spikes in coronavirus cases means that social distancing rules are not so important if people are outside and wear masks — as many protesters did. Slate went so far as to suggest that “a much wider range of outdoor activities — sports events, beaches, swimming pools, playgrounds, and so forth — could be safely permitted much sooner than currently scheduled.”

But some experts say that leaping to this conclusion could be a serious mistake. “I do think it’s good news that we haven’t seen enormous outbreaks at this time,” Kate Grabowski, an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins University, told BuzzFeed News. “But everything that we’ve learned from the epidemiology of this virus tells us that people who are in close proximity with people who are infected are at risk.”

What’s more, a new analysis based on cell-phone tracking data suggests a surprising reason for the lack of protest-related spikes in COVID-19: In the cities with large protests, the wider population actually spent more time at home during the demonstrations — suggesting that any surge caused by virus transmission at the protests themselves would have been countered by an increase in social distancing among the rest of the cities’ populations.  Read more >>