Eighteen Trump rallies may have resulted in more than 700 COVID-19-related deaths, including among people who did not attend the rallies, according to a new working paper from researchers at Stanford University.
While Joe Biden adapted his presidential campaign to smaller, more socially distant events during the pandemic, President Donald Trump has been making the case for his crowded gatherings, where the use of masks is often rare. The Stanford Journal studied 18 Trump rallies this year and linked them to a significant spike in COVID-19 cases – around 30,000 – in surrounding counties.
The paper, from the school’s economics department, has not been peer reviewed, leading epidemiologists to raise reservations about its findings. However, one such infectious disease expert told The Daily Beast that the study’s larger findings suggest a post-Trump COVID bump and further illustrate the effect of wearing a mask.
The study’s authors wrote that their results confirmed earlier warnings about large gatherings.
“Our analysis strongly supports the warnings and recommendations of public health officials regarding the risk of transmission of COVID-19 during large group gatherings, particularly when the degree of compliance with guidelines regarding the use of masks and distancing social is weak, ”they wrote. “The communities in which Trump’s rallies were held paid a high price in terms of illness and death.”
Dr Jeffrey Klausner, an infectious disease expert at UCLA who was not involved in the study, said that this “does indeed raise the possibility that these outdoor gatherings have increased the incidence of COVID in counties where they happened.
Klausner raised several caveats, noting that the study’s authors did not individually count deaths, but looked at COVID spikes after the rally, applied COVID death rates in affected counties and predicted the number deaths resulting from rallies. The method meant researchers couldn’t control for certain demographic factors, such as the ages of those affected, he said. (Old age appears to be a major contributor to COVID death rates.)
Other epidemiologists, like Michael Mina of the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, have also urged caution in extrapolating too much from the study.
“There are better ways to look at this data through epidemic lenses of infectious disease,” Mina told Politico. “It offers a data point, but nothing that I would like to draw solid conclusions from. It is also so overtly political that it is difficult to distinguish whether decisions have been made on the basis of perhaps unrecognized biases.
Klausner and another epidemiologist who spoke to Politico said the study’s methods seemed generally sound, if a bit speculative.
Fifteen of the 18 Trump rallies (held June through September in multiple states) were held outdoors. COVID-19 research has suggested that outdoor events with good ventilation are safer than indoor events with poor air circulation. Despite this, researchers have recorded a noticeable increase in COVID-19 cases in surrounding areas after the rallies. Meanwhile, similar studies of Black Lives Matter outdoor gatherings this summer did not reveal a noticeable outbreak among protest participants.
The difference could have been the use of a mask, Klausner noted.
While the Black Lives Matter gatherings “got a lot of people, a lot of people screaming and other attributes that we associate with COVID, you had a much higher percentage of mask wear,” compared to Trump’s rallies where fewer people were pictured in protective gear, he noted. .
“The lack of masks was perhaps the main difference between Black Lives Matter rallies and Trump rallies,” Klausner said.
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