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Where the President Goes, Coronavirus Follows: Analysis Shows Spike in Covid-19 Cases After Numerous Trump Rallies

"These rallies offer a boost to the president's ego but risk leaving behind a trail of sickness and increased strain on local public health departments and medical systems."

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a "Make America Great Again" campaign rally at Altoona-Blair County Airport in Martinsburg, Pennsylvania on October 26, 2020. (Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images)

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a "Make America Great Again" campaign rally at Altoona-Blair County Airport in Martinsburg, Pennsylvania on October 26, 2020. (Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images)

Half of the 22 campaign rallies held by President Donald Trump between June and September were followed by county-level increases in Covid-19 cases, suggesting that these frequent in-person events attracting thousands of people may be unnecessarily intensifying the spread of coronavirus and "endangering host communities" throughout the United States.

That's according to a new analysis from the Center for American Progress (CAP), based on an examination of county-level data on Covid-19 from the New York Times.

"Eight months into the pandemic, we know the factors that can stop the spread of the coronavirus. The president and his team have flouted the rules at every turn."
—Emily Gee, Center for American Progress

By comparing the number of daily new cases and the seven-day moving average of new cases during the 21 days before and after each rally, researchers were able to discern the extent to which Trump's rallies "were associated with heightened cases."

While the authors stress that "multiple factors prevent a definitive, causal connection," CAP found "unambiguous increases" in county-level cases after rallies in the following cities:

  • Mankato, Minnesota
  • Bemidji, Minnesota
  • Henderson, Nevada
  • Londonderry, New Hampshire
  • Swanton, Ohio
  • Middletown, Pennsylvania
  • Old Forge, Pennsylvania; and
  • Newport News, Virginia

CAP also detected a more "subtle" increase in the county-level case count trend after Trump's rallies in Vandalia, Ohio; Latrobe, Pennslyvania; and Oshkosh, Wisconsin. 

According to the analysis, "counties that had a lower Covid-19 incidence—a measure of new cases per capita—prior to the rally were more likely to have a visible increase in cases after the rally, perhaps because any uptick in cases was more likely to stand out against the pre-event level."

"By virtually any standard, Trump's rallies ignore every public health recommendation to mitigate the spread of Covid-19," said Thomas Waldrop, policy analyst at CAP and co-author of the report, in a statement released Tuesday.

"They involve thousands of people, packed closely together, with few people wearing masks and no attempts at social distancing," he added. 

Emily Gee, a health economist at CAP and co-author of the analysis, noted that "eight months into the pandemic, we know the factors that can stop the spread of the coronavirus."

"The president and his team have flouted the rules at every turn," Gee said. "These rallies offer a boost to the president's ego but risk leaving behind a trail of sickness and increased strain on local public health departments and medical systems."

Trump announced Tuesday morning via Twitter that he has "three BIG rallies today" in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Nebraska. In response, Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wisc.) pointed out that Wisconsin on Monday passed 200,000 Covid-19 cases, with half occurring in "just the last 36 days."

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According to CAP's report, the majority of Trump's rallies—where attendees typically do not wear masks or spread out—"have been in violation of local or state restrictions on gatherings to limit the spread of Covid-19."

"By virtually any standard, Trump's rallies ignore every public health recommendation to mitigate the spread of Covid-19."
—Thomas Waldrop, Center for American Progress

Calling Trump "nothing but a thug," The Daily Beast's Michael Daly on Monday described the president's insistence on holding dangerous rallies with closely-packed audiences in spite of public health precautions prohibiting large gatherings as a criminal act that flies in the face of Trump's professed respect for authority and law enforcement. 

"The self-declared law-and-order president," Daly wrote, "proved to be a flat-out gangster by declaring himself willing to place the lives of who knows how many [people] in jeopardy."

Eric Feigl-Ding recently commented that "the biggest difference between public health and astrophysics is that rocket scientists don't have to convince a science denialist for mission success." 

"But we epidemiologists have to fight... denialism" about the risks of coronavirus exposure and the efficacy of masks in minimizing it, he added. "And if we fail, people die."

A recent report (pdf) by researchers at Columbia University estimated that of the more than 217,000 lives lost to Covid-19 in the U.S. as of October 16, "at least 130,000 deaths and perhaps as many as 210,000 could have been avoided with earlier policy interventions and more robust federal coordination and leadership."

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) on Monday registered his disgust with Trump's "pathetic" mishandling of the public health disaster relative to other countries:

Compared to many other countries, the U.S. pandemic response has been hobbled by a lack of universal healthcare, paid sick leave, and additional structural disadvantages.

But, as CAP's new analysis shows, the country has also been hampered by the Trump administration, which has consistently eschewed the guidance of public health officials throughout the crisis and has "fostered a culture that discourages common-sense mask-wearing and social distancing."

"It's unbelievable," said Waldrop, "that the president has continued to hold these events, which present a risk to public health, despite contracting Covid-19 and being hospitalized himself."

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