• Andrew Walsh MD PhD

International (outside USA) COVID-19 infections from BLM protests

#masks4all #secondwave #covid19 #blacklivesmatter

The USA has definitely shown indications of starting an upward trend in recent days but these have generally not been attributed to the protests but to early opening of economies.

Indeed there are now reports starting to drip out confirming what I have been saying for weeks now, that the combination of masks and outdoors should minimize transmission risks, as my avid readers will know (yes that means all 5 of you!)

Whilst still on USA I will just mention Trump's proposed rally, who seems to think that the lack of infections from protests mean he can just carry on as normal with his rallies. Here is the trend from Tulsa

Tulsa is already into a couple of weeks of steep upward incidence, which has been attributed to recent large indoor gatherings. Trump has shown no indication he plans to incorporate social distancing at his rally but there are reported plans of distributing masks and hand sanitizer to participants. Given the reluctance of people in Oklahoma to wear masks, particularly Republicans, it would not surprise me at all to see this become a super-spreader event: 19000 or more people squeezed indoors shoulder-to-shoulder, chanting and cheering for Trump without many wearing masks. This is a recipe for disaster.

Now onto other countries:

The UK had large protests as early as 31 May. Since George's death daily incidence has steadily declined with no apparent spikes. I can find no news of infections resulting from the protests in the UK.

Australia has had a fairly steady low number of new infections over the last two months, with a recent slight increase in incidence. This has been largely in Victoria and mostly due to 15 returned travelers from overseas and unrelated to the protests. The protests were on June 6, 12 days after George Floyd's death. At least 50 000 people were involved in the demonstrations. There have been 2 people who tested positive after the Victorian demonstration who were not likely to have contracted the virus during the protest.

Vienna had a very large protest (some estimates up to 50 000) on June 4. The daily incidence has remained steady. I am unable to find any references to positives arising as a result of the protest.

There were massive protests held throughout Germany around 6 June exceeding 100000 participants. Despite this there has been no increase in daily incidence over the last 2 weeks. I am unable to find any reports of positive cases arising from the demonstrations.

Large protests on June 7 have not shown any spike in positive cases and the trajectory continues downward.

No spike after protests on 7 June involving thousands.

Large protests on 7 June have not resulted in any spikes.

France also had large protests but the data is unusable.

It is not yet quite 2 weeks since the international protests outside of USA but so far they all, without exception are following the trend from the cities I looked at inside the USA. I have not seen one single spike in positive Covid-19 cases in the 2 weeks after the protests in any of the areas looked at. This is in spite of the near universal claims beforehand that the demonstrations were huge risks and would lead to super-spreading events in those areas. This does not appear to have happened even once despite many hundreds of thousands of people being involved.

So what has happened?

Some protesters implemented social distancing but many or even most did not. Some wore masks but many did not. The nature of protests is that people are involved in much high-risk activities like shouting and singing. The one thing they all had in common was that they were held outside. Pre-print studies from Japan and China suggested the transmission risk was at least 19 times lower outdoors than indoors. Although it is impossible for me to quantify the risk reduction I would suggest that even this is an underestimate.

I have been unable to find even a single case of a transmission being verified as a result of attending protests. There are several people who have tested positive after protests. For example, in Minneapolis, 1.4% of people who were tested who attended the demonstrations were positive for the virus afterwards. This does not mean they caught the disease as a result of the protests as it is just 38% of the state average of 3.7%. I am certainly not saying that nobody has caught the disease from protests, just that no spikes have occurred and I can see no evidence at all that attending protests increases risk beyond our normal daily activities.

The implications for this are huge. If (when) authorities come to the same conclusion that outdoor risk of virus transmission is miniscule in relation to indoors, it will mean we can relax outdoor restrictions enormously. From Slate:

The possible implications are profound. They suggest that a much wider range of outdoor activities—sports events, beaches, swimming pools, playgrounds, and so forth—could be safely permitted much sooner than currently scheduled. As a result, New York officials are contemplating an expansion and acceleration.

I will not be updating this every day but will take another look at the data in a few days time. I do not anticipate any drastic changes from what we have seen so far. Thanks for reading this far.

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