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Study: Trump rallies may be responsible for an estimated 700 Covid-19 deaths

The president is most likely a superspreader.

President Trump Holds Campaign Rally In Michigan Ahead Of Tuesday’s Election
A Trump rally in Michigan on Friday, October 30, in Waterford, Michigan.
John Moore/Getty Images
Ian Millhiser is a senior correspondent at Vox, where he focuses on the Supreme Court, the Constitution, and the decline of liberal democracy in the United States. He received a JD from Duke University and is the author of two books on the Supreme Court.

A study conducted by four Stanford University economic researchers determined that 18 Trump campaign rallies, the bulk of which took place over the past summer, “ultimately resulted in more than 30,000 incremental confirmed cases of COVID-19” and “likely led to more than 700 deaths.”

The study examined 18 counties that hosted Trump rallies in locations such as Tulsa, Oklahoma; Phoenix, Arizona; and Winston-Salem, North Carolina, held between June 20 and September 22. It then compared the rate of post-rally Covid-19 infections in the host counties to that of comparable counties that did not host a rally. Attendance at individual rallies varied, but Trump often draws thousands of supporters to these events.

“For the vast majority of county matching procedures we employ,” the authors wrote, “our estimate of the average treatment effect across the eighteen rallies implies that they increased subsequent confirmed cases of COVID-19 by more than 250 per 100,000 residents.” The researchers — B. Douglas Bernheim, an economics professor at Stanford, and Stanford grad students Nina Buchmann, Zach Freitas-Groff, and Sebastián Otero — extrapolated that figure to the entire sample, concluding that the rallies led to thousands of new infections and, likely, hundreds of deaths.

As the authors acknowledge, trying to identify exactly how many infections resulted from a Trump rally (or any other potential superspreader event) is not easy. Factors such as whether the rally is held indoor or outdoor, whether a large number of infected people attended, whether attendees wore masks, and “the distribution of infected individuals among rally attendees” can all lead to vastly different rates of infection.

Likewise, while the authors estimate Trump’s summer rallies led to more than 700 deaths, they note those deaths were “not necessarily among attendees.” For example, a rally-goer may become infected with a mild case, but that same rally-goer might give the virus to his wife, who gives it to a coworker, who gives it to their sister, who dies of Covid-19.

Nevertheless, the average discrepancies between the number of infections in counties hosting Trump rallies and the infection rates in other, similar counties suggest that at least some of Trump’s campaign events were superspreader events, potentially responsible for hundreds of lost lives.

Earlier this month, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, warned that Trump was “asking for trouble” by hosting mass political rallies as the number of Covid-19 infections surge. But Fauci’s warning does not appear to have deterred the president, who reportedly plans to host 14 rallies in the final three days of the 2020 campaign.

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