Coronavirus surges aren't linked to George Floyd, policing, Black Lives Matter protests
George Floyd protesters in Fort Collins, Colorado on June 2, 2020.
The last month of the American coronavirus crisis was different.
Shops, restaurants and jobs reopened. People felt more comfortable when they left their homes. Mass protests over the death of George Floyd by the Minneapolis police dominated television and social media, as fewer people spoke about wearing masks and social distancing.
The virus waited patiently all the time.
"People believe that something has changed fundamentally, but nothing has changed fundamentally," said Dr. Ali Khan, who became Dean of the College of Public Health at the University of Nebraska Medical Center after leading the preparatory efforts at the Centers for Disease Control.
“90 to 95% of Americans are still vulnerable. The virus is still out there… The basic biology of the virus has not changed, nor has the basic strategy to fight the virus, ”Khan said. "Until we have this disease under control, we should expect disease peaks to continue."
And that's exactly what happens.
In the United States, new cases have increased from about 21,000 a day in the last week of May to almost 23,000 a day this week. Positive tests and, in some places, hospital stays have increased, and many have wondered if a change in behavior has caused outbreaks in states like California, Arizona, and Florida.
But neither protests nor more people leaving the house explain the rise in new COVID-19 cases. An analysis by USA TODAY in countries with at least 100 cases has shown. Counties with a growth rate of 25% or more in the past two weeks have left their homes to the same extent as people in counties without an increase in new infections. This emerges from the data compiled by SafeGraph on the location of mobile phones.
And large-scale protests were as common in non-outbreak counties as in others - although these events could have spread the virus widely and still lead to outbreaks.
At the moment, the waves appear to be the strongest in countries where the worst outbreaks of coronaviruses were avoided earlier this year. Areas with the most recent peaks remain lower overall, averaging 614 confirmed coronavirus cases per 100,000 people. Those with slower growth have an overall rate of 860 per 100,000.
No single cause seems to explain why peaks occurred in some places and not in others.
"I don't think it's clear. I think it's diverse," said Ted Ross, director of the Center for Vaccines and Immunology at the University of Georgia.
Reopening and protests
Experts speculate that people living in places that weren't hit hard by COVID-19 earlier this year may wear less masks and maintain a safe social distance, increasing the likelihood that they will spread the virus once it gets there comes into force.
"They get frustrated and tired. And the ability to remain vigilant over a long period of time is difficult, especially when they don't see the risk in front of them," said Mercedes Carnethon, vice president of preventive medicine at the Northwestern Feinberg School of Medicine University. "How long can you be afraid of the Boogeyman if the Boogeyman never really knocks on your door?"
Others say the months of closed economies and blocking orders have reduced the spread of the virus to such an extent that large gatherings pose less of a risk of becoming a mass-spreading event than in the spring.
This grace period will not last forever. If large crowds continue to gather in the church, on the beach, and in the bars without wearing masks and without social distancing, experts say it is only a matter of time before an infected person triggers a new outbreak.
"Once a disease gets into a tinderbox situation, it can explode pretty quickly," said Dr. Lisa Maragakis, Senior Director of Infection Prevention at Johns Hopkins Health System.
Because public data is compiled at the county level, it is impossible to analyze important detailed details about certain social groups and individual risk factors.
For example, an increase caused by people who fell ill during protests could be masked by the fact that the spread of coronaviruses in their home community has decreased due to preventive measures. Or a spike could be tied to a single mass event like a service, instead of the general public leaving their homes more often.
In addition, mass propagation events may take weeks to spread to the extent that they cause a noticeable increase in confirmed cases, especially when a state does not adequately isolate the first people who show symptoms and follow their contacts with others.
Carnethon said that county-level numbers are a form of "ecological investigation." This type of analysis is helpful in understanding the overall picture of the spread of the coronavirus in the community, but cannot pinpoint certain causes of the spread.
"Ecological studies are great to provide clues about where there might be association patterns," she said. "It doesn't give us the data to determine whether a person's behavior is related to a person's results."
Sometimes good individual decisions are not enough to protect communities, experts said.
Minority groups are disproportionately represented among the indispensable workers who are constantly exposed to corona viruses, including in meat packaging plants and nursing homes, where they dominate the workforce.
USA Today has previously reported that meat packaging factories have become epicentres of outbreaks in many communities due to crowded work areas, poor hygiene controls, and policies that keep sick workers from staying at home. Similarly, many nursing homes have been cited for poor infection controls that endanger both residents and employees, USA Today reported.
This appears to be a factor in the recent major Arkansas outbreak.
In Washington County, Arkansas, concerns about the increase in Hispanic and Asian households far outweigh the effects of protests, said Jennifer Dillaha, epidemiologist and medical director for immunization and response to outbreaks at the Arkansas Department of Health.
The number of coronavirus cases in the country has increased the most in the Fayetteville region. Last week, 792 of the 1,970 cases were added. While Fayetteville had big protests, she said that people who report new cases are not connected to them.
Instead, Dillaha said most cases were tied to workers in poultry processing plants, including Latinos and Asian Americans. Some of the latest cases also affected children. She said she didn't have enough information to know whether the children got the virus from family members at the factory or from anywhere else in the community.
"We know that the Latino population is young and they tend to have large households," said Dillaha. "So we are concerned that it will spread in homes and social groups outside of homes."
Given the dramatic increase in cases, Fayetteville this week demanded that people wear cloth-type facewear in public. Dillaha said it was the first such assignment in the state, but she wouldn't be surprised to see more.
"If we don't handle cases on the construction site, we will have difficulties when the university opens. It all works together. If one area is not addressed, the other areas are affected."
In Larimer County, Colorado, location data from mobile phones shows that the rate of people staying at home decreased 12% from May to June. Large protests broke out in late May, and hundreds gathered to call for changes in police work.
However, the number of new cases has been growing slowly - less than five cases per day in the past week - since the first patient was identified in early March.
Katie O’Donnell, an information officer at the Department of Health and Environment of Laramie County, attributes the decline in cases to a real change in behavior. The county issued a face mask order on May 2 asking companies to request the covers as a condition for reopening.
"We had to reopen our stores because we were ready to receive these facewear orders," said O'Donnell. "People hate it. People complain. But for the most part, people understand that if you only wear these facewear, we can." start to open again. "
The decline in new cases largely overlaps with this order. The county identified 75 new cases in the week before it entered into force. The next week there were 46. Last week there were only 27.
This is not due to a lack of testing, said O'Donnell as testing is more common. Demonstrators in particular took advantage of this.
"I get a surprising number of calls from them after they protested," she said, adding, interestingly, "our demonstrators wear masks and try to keep their social distance."
By comparison, Arizona has not mandated masks nationwide, and until recently local governments have been prohibited from issuing their own orders. This is one reason why experts suspect that new cases will appear there more quickly than in most of the country.
"When things opened up, many people may not have understood all of the practices that we should continue," said Dr. Joshua LaBaer, director of the Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University. “When I go out on weekends, I see a lot of people walking around without a mask. Not so long ago I was playing a soccer game with groups of parents chatting without a mask as if no pandemic was going to happen. "
Institute researchers estimate that the transmission rate increased by 40% in the first two weeks after the state reopened on May 11. On that day, the state reported 261 new positive tests. On Thursday, Arizona reported a record high of almost ten times as many: 2,519 new cases.
The areas with the fastest spread of the coronavirus in June are not the same, with an increase in March.
For example, the counties of Apache and Navajo, which include large parts of the rural Navajo nation, have some of the highest infection rates in the country. More than 2,500 people are infected per 100,000 inhabitants. But the rate of spread there has slowed dramatically in the past few weeks, as tribal officials have ordered bans, even as residents of non-tribal areas, to drive the Arizona reopening plan.
Every person with COVID-19 in Apache County now infects 1.02 others, compared with 1.7 in early April. In Navajo County, the rate has dropped from 1.5 to 1.1. If the number falls below 1, it means the outbreak is contained and subsiding.
In a recent call, President Donald Trump asked governors to describe the nationwide growth of positive tests as a result of increased tests, saying there should be no cause for concern.
Last week, Republican Doug Ducey, Arizona governor, described an increase in cases as a result of increased testing. His tone changed a few days later. On Wednesday, he urged Arizonans to wear masks and authorized cities and counties to establish local mandates and admitted that the number of corona viruses increased.
LaBaer repeated other experts who said that easier access to tests doesn't fully explain the increases.
"You can tell by the number of hospital stays, the number of emergency rooms," he said. "There are more COVID-19 cases and more transmissions."
The five-day average of the tests in Arizona shows that 17% were positive and well above the 10% threshold, which the World Health Organization considers to be an appropriate test. It is also higher than a high of 14% in late April and a low of 7% when the state announced its reopening.
LaBaer pointed to a graph with the number of new cases announced daily and moved his pointer up and to the right.
"This is the foot on the accelerator," he said. "That means there are more cases every day and the virus is actively spreading throughout the community."
Contributors: Mike Stucka and Dan Keemahill
This article originally appeared in the US TODAY: So far, George Floyd's protests have not been due to an increase in the corona virus
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