Protesters hold a “Black Lives Matter” sign and raise their fists as they march through Greenwich Village in a demonstration over the death of George Floyd – AFP

Black Lives Matter protests have not caused a spike in coronavirus cases, a new study has found.

The study, which assessed data from 315 US cities, hypothesised that protests would increase disease transmission, but this was not borne out in the findings.

The researchers, from various American colleges including San Diego State University, concluded there was “no evidence” to suggest the demonstrations had actually led to a surge nearly three weeks on.

Titled “Black Lives Matter Protests, Social Distancing, and COVID-19,” the study also found “strong evidence” that the protests actually increased stay-at-home adherence overall, likely because non-protesters chose to leave their homes less amid the demonstrations.

While the protesters did not practice social distancing, as recommended by health experts, they were mostly outside and wearing masks, which appeared to greatly limit the spread.

Thousands participate in a Black Trans Lives Matter rally in the Brooklyn borough in New York City – Reuters

The researchers looked at anonymous cell phone tracking data from SafeGraph, Inc., as well as data on the local prevalence of Covid-19 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The sample included 18 days of data following the early protests that took place in 66 cities, 16 days of data following protests in 202 cities, and at least 14 days of data for 240 cities that experienced protests during the first week following the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer.

They said that while it is possible that the protests caused an increase in the spread of Covid-19 among those who attended the protests, the protests had little effect on the spread of the virus for the entire population of the cities.

Members of the Texas Southern University police department pause during a funeral service for George Floyd at The Fountain of Praise church – AP

They said it was possible the trend of results could change over time as more data is added, but thought it was highly unlikely.

“We’re past the point in time where community spread would start to show up in the new cases data,” the researchers said.

“We find no evidence that urban protests reignited COVID-19 case growth during the more than two and a half weeks following protest onset,” they reported in the paper, published by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

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“We conclude that predictions of broad negative public health consequences of Black Lives Matter protests were far too narrowly conceived.”

They said the results of the study – a working paper has not been peer-reviewed – makes an important contribution not only to the current discussion around policies for controlling the spread of disease, “but also to the understanding of human behaviour of the general population during periods of civil unrest.”


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