Stanford University economists estimate that President Donald Trump’s campaign rallies have resulted in 30,000 additional confirmed cases of COVID-19, and likely led to more than 700 deaths overall, according to a paper posted online this weekend.
The research, led by B Douglas Bernheim, chair of economics at Stanford University, analyzed data following 18 Trump rallies held between June 20 and Sept. 22, three of which were indoors. Bernheim said in an email the work relies on statistical methods to infer causation after an event has occurred.
Infectious disease experts have long suspected that the president’s rallies ahead of the Nov 3 election might be so-called superspreader events. But so far, scientists have not been able to get a good read on their impact, in part because of a lack of robust contact tracing in many states.
In recent months, Trump has held several dozen rallies in states such as Pennsylvania, Minnesota and Wisconsin, where coronavirus infection rates were already on the rise.
At each event, several thousand people were estimated to have participated. While most of the rallies were held outdoors, video footage show that participants gathered in close proximity and many were not wearing masks, creating a risk of spreading the virus as they cheered their candidate on.
“It’s not a major stretch” to say that large unmasked gatherings are likely to spread the virus, said Dr Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease expert at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.
Adalja said the Stanford paper was “suggestive” of spread from the events, but not definitive because it was not based on an investigation of actual cases. That would help confirm whether participants were exposed to the virus at the event, rather than other places where transmission is rampant.
Minnesota public health officials have attributed four COVID-19 outbreaks and more than 25 cases to Trump rallies held in the state in September and October.
An additional 11 state health departments contacted by Reuters said they had not been able to trace infections to the rallies, although some, including Michigan and Wisconsin, have determined that individual people who later tested positive for COVID-19 were present at Trump campaign events.