The Protests are Not Making America Sick

Exploding the Myth that Black Lives Matter Protests are the Cause of America’s Surge in COVID Cases

We’re in the midst of a resurgence in cases of COVID-19. Since mid-June, infections have surged to more than 50,000 new cases daily according to data from the Centers for Disease Control. We’ve all seen graphs similar to this one from June 28, which shows the relative rate of infections in the USA vs the EU.

Source: Johns Hopkins University

The increase in US infections roughly coincides with any number of factors. These include states reopening their economies, Black Lives Matter protests, a generalized quarantine fatigue, and the politicization of disease response with many simply refusing to wear masks or observe social distancing guidelines.

Despite the multitude of factors at play and the difficulty in unraveling exactly what is behind the recent surge, a dominant narrative has arisen on the right that the protests are the single most important factor behind this surge. For instance, Fox News, the right-leaning news source, has pointed to a dramatic surge in cases in Cleveland, Ohio following Black Lives Matter protests there. Tucker Carlson, one of the channels most popular hosts, has pointed to what he termed a “flagrant double standard”, stating “The very same officials who threatened us … for going outside urged their own voters to flood the streets, and they did, and no one was punished.” He goes on to link the protests to the increase in new cases.

A Look at the Data

Let’s look at two of the suggested causes for the recent increase: Protests and lack of social distancing and mask wearing. If the protests were causing infections, there should be an increase in cases in traditionally liberal areas where protests have been concentrated. If people simply ignoring social distancing rules and mask-wearing regulations were to blame, we would expect increases in traditionally conservative-leaning areas. A study in the New York Times found 75% of Democrats reported wearing masks in public, but less than half of Republicans said the same.

The statewide data are muddy at best. There are increases in such deep red states as Florida (9,488 new cases on July 3) and Texas (7,555 new cases), but also in true blue California (8,040 new cases). However, even a casual observer of US politics will be aware of the divisions within each of these states. Major metropolitan areas of Texas are increasingly likely to vote Democrat and entire swaths of inland and southern California are ruby red.

Fortunately, we have more granular data at hand to examine these competing claims. Looking at county-level infection rates, population totals, and voting patterns allows a clear picture to emerge:

Infections per Capita by County

As this graph indicates, infection rates have increased across the board since April 1, but especially in those counties where a majority of residents voted for Donald Trump. In fact, by July 1 a resident of a Trump-supporting county was 2.7 times more likely to be infected than a resident of a county which voted for Hillary Clinton.

Conclusion

This is not an epidemiological study. I’m not really interrogating the causes of the recent surge in cases. I’ll leave that to the experts. But looking at this data, it is impossible to conclude the Black Lives Matter protests ALONE have caused a surge in coronavirus infections.

Sources

Written by

Transgender data scientist and parent to two children.

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