As the coronavirus continues its unchecked rampage through the American population, concerns have been brewing that President Donald Trump’s rallies have acted as incubators for COVID-19, largely due to people, including Trump, refusing to wear masks or respect social distancing guidelines.
The data is now in. Trump’s superspreader events, as they have been colloquially nicknamed, have led to hundreds of deaths and tens of thousands of COVID-19 infections, according to a new paper published by Standford University on Friday.
The researchers looked for connections between 18 Trump rallies held between June 20 and September 22 (three of which were indoors) and new coronavirus infections following those dates in surrounding areas:
Trump rallies have several distinguishing features that lend themselves to this inquiry. First, they involved large numbers of attendees. Though data on attendance is poor, it appears that the number of attendees was generally in the thousands and sometimes in the tens of thousands. Because the available information about the incidence of COVID-19 is at the county level, the effects of smaller meetings would be more difficult to detect using our methods. Second, the set of major Trump campaign events is easily identified. We know whether and when the Trump campaign held a rally in each county. This property allows us to distinguish between ‘treated’ and ‘untreated’ counties. Third, the events occurred on identifiable days. They neither recurred within a given county nor stretched across several days. This feature allows us to evaluate the effects of individual gatherings. Fourth, rallies were not geographically ubiquitous. As a result, we always have a rich set of untreated counties we can use as comparators. Fifth, at least through September 2020, the degree of compliance with guidelines concerning the use of masks and social distancing was low, in part because the Trump campaign downplayed the risk of infection. This feature heightens the risk that a rally could become a ‘superspreader event.’
That data was used “to capture the relationships between post-event outcomes and pre-event characteristics, including demographics and the trajectory of COVID-19 cases, in similar counties,” the researches said in their paper. What they found is quite tragic, although somewhat unsurprising.
All told, Trump’s gatherings led to more than 30,000 confirmed new COVID-19 infections and at least 700 deaths directly attributed to the virus. Some of those who died were not even in attendance, meaning they were infected by someone who brought the bug home with them.
This was no small task.
“We explore a total of 24 procedures for identifying sets of matched counties. For the vast majority of these variants, our estimate of the average treatment effect across the eighteen events implies that they increased subsequent confirmed cases of COVID-19 by more than 250 per 100,000 residents,” the paper states.
The team’s findings offer validation of warnings by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that large crowds are a breeding ground for the coronavirus, “particularly when the degree of compliance with guidelines concerning the use of masks and social distancing is low,” the researchers said. “There is reason to fear that such gatherings can serve as “superspreader events,” severely undermining efforts to control the pandemic.”
Standford Economics Chair and paper co-author B. Douglas Bernheim said that “the communities in which Trump rallies took place paid a high price in terms of disease and death.”
Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s campaign responded to the study.
The president’s self-aggrandizing performances are “costing hundreds of lives and sparking thousands of cases with super spreader rallies that only serve his own ego,” spokesperson Andrew Bates said. “The worst part is that this doesn’t even capture Trump’s many superspreader events on White House grounds or the last five weeks of events across the country. How many more lives have been upended in that time? How many more empty seats are there at kitchen tables across America because of Donald Trump’s ego?”
Team Trump, meanwhile, defended the right to publicly assemble and made an attempt at plausible deniability.
“Americans have the right to gather under the First Amendment to hear from the President of the United States,” Trump campaign spokeswoman Courtney Parella said. “We take strong precautions for our campaign events, requiring every attendee to have their temperature checked, providing masks they’re instructed to wear, and ensuring access to plenty of hand sanitizer. We also have signs at our events instructing attendees to wear their masks.”=
More than 9.4 million Americans have been infected with COVID-19 and 236,000 Americans have died, according to the latest statistics from Worldometer.info. New daily cases are expected to top 100,000 by next week.
What's Your Reaction?
Brandon is a political writer for the Hill Reporter specializing in current events, breaking news, and scientific discovery. Brandon holds a Bachelor of Music degree from Indiana University. He lives in New York City.