The coronavirus has infected millions of Americans, resulted in almost 330,000 coronavirus-linked deaths in the U.S., and ground the world to a halt, but President Donald Trump has insisted on holding big campaign rallies. Those rallies may have led to more than 30,000 cases of COVID-19 and the deaths of more than 700 people, economists from Stanford University concluded in a new paper.
Economists built a statistical model to estimate the effects of 18 Trump rallies held between June 20 and September 22 in cities including Phoenix and Pittsburgh. Three of those 18 rallies were held indoors. They analyzed the demographics, policy measures, and levels of COVID-19 in the counties where the rallies occurred, compared to similarly situated counties.
The working paper, which has not been peer reviewed, estimated that the rallies “increased subsequent confirmed cases of COVID-19 by more than 250 per 100,000 residents.” The people who died of Trump-linked coronavirus cases were not necessarily rally attendees, according to the paper.
“Our analysis strongly supports the warnings and recommendations of public health officials concerning the risk of COVID-19 transmission at large group gatherings, particularly when the degree of compliance with guidelines concerning the use of masks and social distancing is low,” wrote the economists, who include B. Douglas Bernheim, chairman of Stanford’s economics department. “The communities in which Trump rallies took place paid a high price in terms of disease and death.”
The White House has already denounced the paper as “flawed,” according to Politico.
"As the president has said, the cure cannot be worse than the disease, and this country should be open, armed with best practices and freedom of choice to limit the spread of COVID-19," said White House spokesperson Judd Deere.
Michael Mina, an epidemiologist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, told Politico that the paper offers “a data point.” But Mina added that the paper is “also so overtly political that it makes it hard to distinguish if there were decisions made out of perhaps unrecognized bias.”
However, the debate over how to manage the coronavirus and keep the country strong is exactly what led the economists to start examining the impact of Trump’s rallies, Bernheim said.
“The motivation for this paper is that there is a debate that is raging about the trade-off between the economic consequences of restrictions and the health consequences of transmission,” Bernheim told the New York Times. “As an economist, I take that debate to be both important and appropriate.”
One of the rallies studied in the paper took place in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on June 20, which was heralded at the time as Trump’s return to the campaign trail after months of lockdown. About two weeks after that rally, Tulsa County reported that it was now dealing with hundreds of new coronavirus infections—a record at the time.
Bruce Dart, director of the Tulsa Health Department, said in early July that Trump’s rally likely had something to do with the surge.
Cases of the coronavirus are once again spiking across the country. Almost 100,000 new cases were reported on Friday. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and health officials have urged people to practice social distancing, wear masks, and avoid large gatherings—like, for example, rallies.