Congregating During Coronavirus

Robert Brooks Contributor
Congregating During Coronavirus
Read Time: approx. 2:57

This is the top story from our daily newsletter published on September 11, 2020. To have this and more delivered directly to your inbox scroll down and enter your email or click here to sign up. Plus, a moment of silence: On this day in 2001, 19 militants associated with the Islamic extremist group al Qaeda hijacked four airplanes and carried out suicide attacks against targets in the United States. Almost 3,000 people were killed. We will Never Forget.

Congregating During Coronavirus: “The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota last month was a coronavirus ‘superspreading event’ according to a new study by the IZA Institute of Labor Economics,” as reported by The Hill. Using anonymized cell phone data, “researchers concluded that more than 266,000 cases were tied to the event attended by more than 460,000 individuals. Based on the increase in case count, the researchers group estimated that cases connected to the gathering resulted in $12 billion in public health costs, not including the costs associated with any deaths that might be tied to cases from the event.” Do events like the rally in South Dakota (on the left above) and protests for racial injustice (on the right above) spread coronavirus equitably? Here’s what outlets on both the right and left think:

On the Left: On June 26, 2020 German Lopez of Vox noted that, “Coronavirus cases are increasing, but Black Lives Matter protests may not be to blame.” Lopez wrote that “initial data, reported in the Wall Street Journal and BuzzFeed, found no uptick in Covid-19 cases in cities with major protests.” Instead, “experts pointed to states reopening, particularly allowing indoor gatherings — at bars, restaurants, barbershops, workplaces, and so on — in which the coronavirus is more likely to spread.” Lopez centers his article around six reasons why the Black Lives Matter protests may not have been superspreader events. One: “The protests were mostly outdoors. Two: Protesters wore masks, washed their hands, and took other precautions. Three: The protesters were relatively young. Four: The protesters made up a small portion of the overall population, meaning fewer people are less likely to cause a major outbreak. Five: The protests pushed other people to stay home. And Six: There’s an element of chance meaning it’s entirely possible that protesters got, in a sense, lucky.” Lopez notes that because the Black Lives Matter protests, “do not seem to be a major [spreading] source… [this] suggests that people were able to practice their rights to free speech and assembly without contributing to the ongoing pandemic.”

On the Right: The Wall Street Journal Editorial Board disagrees. “Holy Hell’s Angels,” the Ed Board begins, saying the Sturgis superspreader study “is another example of how flawed statistical models can generate grossly exaggerated projections.” For starters, the Ed Board says, “South Dakota still has among the lowest per capita death rates in the country (19 per 100,000) and fewer deaths and cases per capita than its neighbors Nebraska and North Dakota. Covid patients currently occupy 3% of state hospital beds and 6% of intensive-care units. So it seems that attendees at least didn’t expose the society’s vulnerable to the virus even if they were putting themselves at risk.” Moreover, “many ‘high inflow’ counties like Los Angeles, Maricopa (Arizona), Clark (Nevada) and El Paso were experiencing flare-ups before the rally. These counties may have shared other characteristics like higher population density that contributed to their increases.” The Ed Board continues, saying “the study’s authors nonetheless assign each of these 266,796 Covid cases a public-health cost of $46,000—ergo $12.2 billion—though the vast majority of all virus cases are mild or moderate. Talk about a case study in statistical overreach—and double standards.” In conclusion, the Ed Board says “the media has dismissed the mere suggestion that this summer’s nationwide Black Lives Matter protests may have contributed to outbreaks. Who knew the deplorables of Sturgis were more vulnerable to the virus than progressives?”

Flag This: The back and forth above is tangentially related to the vote-by-mail debate that we’ve seen play out this summer. On August 19th, President Trump said if people can “protest in person,” they can “vote in person” in November, amid the battle over mail-in ballots. In general, Democrats have claimed that voting by mail is the only safe way to cast ballots amid the pandemic so that people don’t congregate and spread the disease. At the same time, the left has been more amenable to large scale protests in major US cities throughout the summer. Republicans, including the President, believe this mixed stance is hypocritical. As for Dr. Anthony Fauci, he said there is “no reason” Americans can’t vote in person for the 2020 presidential election, so long as voters follow proper social distancing guidelines amid the coronavirus pandemic. “I think if carefully done, according to the guidelines, there’s no reason that I can see why that cannot be the case,” Fauci told ABC News last month. “If you go and wear a mask, if you observe the physical distancing, and don’t have a crowded situation, there’s no reason why [people] shouldn’t be able to do that.”