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BLM protests vs. Sturgis Motorcycle Rally

Why was the COVID19 spread so different for these two events? A valid question to follow-up the Sturgis post yesterday.

I (and other public health officials) hypothesized that BLM protests would exacerbate COVID19. Protesters reduced social distancing behavior, were shouting and yelling (i.e. spreading droplets), and congregated in large groups. This could have spurred a resurgence. However, as more and more data comes in, this does not seem to be the case.

One white paper, published by 5 scientists, looked closely at BLM protests in 315 of the largest US cities from May 15-June 9.

Their purpose? To see if the BLM urban protests impacted social distancing in communities, COVID19 cases, and COVID19 related deaths.

What did they find? • Stay-at-home behavior increased across these cities during the protests. The authors attribute this to fear of danger, avoiding travel outside the home due to additional traffic congestion or street closures, or due to lack of available activities from businesses closures near protest sites. • There is no evidence that protests sparked COVID19 case or death growth 5 weeks following the onset of protests

Why was our hypothesis wrong? • I didn’t think about non-participants’ behaviors when I made the initial hypothesis. More people, who were not protesters, stayed inside. This is consistent with the literature on crime, violence, and perceived safety amongst the general population.

So why was BLM different than Sturgis? • The sheer amount of people in one place. Both had about 500,000 people attend, but BLM was spread over 500 cities while Sturgis was in 1 city. The high density at 1 event makes it far more difficult to social distance. • Difference in spaces (Sturgis also took place in bars, tattoo parlors, hotel rooms, etc.) • Difference in testing behaviors. I can only speak for Texas, but we offered free COVID19 testing for protesters. We are hearing anecdotally, from contact tracers in the area, that bikers are either not interested in getting tested or refuse to admit they went to the rally if they are tested • Other hypotheses? Differences in face mask use, ages of attendees, and travel to and from the sites (protesters did travel to BLM events, however this was not 100% like Sturgis).

Why is this comparison important? It contributes to the current discussion around policies for controlling the spread of disease. Especially when it comes to large events. Because we ALL want to get make to normal one day.

Love, YLE

Source: https://www.nber.org/papers/w27408.pdf

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