As time stretches on, it is increasingly apparent that lockdowns are not being respected. App tracking data shows people have not been adhering to stay-at-home orders. A most recent example shows a Fire Island partier proudly proclaiming his participation in public gatherings after testing positive for COVID 8 days prior. Social media admonitions have made it abundantly clear that everyone should socially distance, wear masks, and #STAYATHOME. Yet one activity throws a wrench in this: protests.
Demonstrations broke out in every state in response to the murder of George Floyd. Huge crowds, packed on the streets of major cities, marched and chanted for an end to police brutality and systemic racism. To be charitable, we could say that mask compliance was relatively high and hand sanitation stations were available where possible. However, it begs the question: is this wise?
A pretty clear distinction of opinions can be broken down along party lines; the left is pro-lockdown while the right is against these orders. When it comes to public shaming about defiance of these public health measures, its vocal standard-bearers are reliably on the left. The fervor of this campaign certainly suffers from a double-standard when we can see asymmetric responses mere hours apart on the matter of public gatherings:
No matter how you slice it, this looks bad. For those who have dutifully stayed home, said goodbye to loved ones over video chat, and buried family without a funeral, it is particularly upsetting to see exceptions carved out for protesting (and even get endorsed by politicians). At the beginning of this pandemic, we were informed that it might be tough, but everyone needed to make sacrifices. Sorry, no gym, no bars, no socializing. In the blink of an eye, a steady diet of reprobation was traded for open encouragement of precisely such activities. Even healthcare professionals chimed in to warn us against applying our previous standards to these massive gatherings springing up across the nation. Inflexible edicts were given a glaring loophole, and the disconnect has understandably made many disillusioned with public health advice.
“But wait,” people will say. “You can’t compare parties to people marching against systemic injustices!” The rules don’t apply here because this is a noble cause that requires our immediate attention. Black men are being murdered in the streets at the hands of police, and we cannot let the threat of a pandemic suck the air out of a massive moment that is making change on the ground right now in defense of black lives. Also, research showed no spike in COVID cases due to protests.
The hypocrisy on this matter is truly breathtaking. Given what we know about this pandemic, protests will increase the spread of the disease, and more people will die as a result of these protests. It is perfectly acceptable to argue that the good manifesting from these protests outweighs the deaths of people of color disproportionately killed by this virus. One could at least make the case that rioting and looting hitting minority communities in urban centers is an unfortunate price that ended up being paid for progress thanks to these protests. Unfortunately, supporters of mass protests seem incapable of any contrition.
With regard to allegations that there was no corresponding spike in cases as a result of protests, I invite you to actually read the study being cited. Fear of rioting and violence secondary to protests caused more people to stay home and socially distance. The effect of those electing to steer clear of social unrest more than offset new cases generated by protesters. This is hardly a ringing endorsement of the protests themselves. It requires a special level of ideological possession to argue that these particular gatherings are not causing the spread of COVID. But let’s take these claims at face value and extrapolate from there.
If one wishes to mount a defense of these protests, it’s possible to propound that sufficient mask compliance and hand sanitizing effectively limited viral spread, and being outside is less dangerous than large gatherings confined indoors. There isn’t much else we can muster for this argument since there’s plenty of photographic evidence showing no social distancing, and we know that shouting chants potentiates disease spread.
If we are to believe these rationalizations from mass gatherings, it forces us to come to certain conclusions. Namely, that large outdoor gatherings and shouting are not mechanisms that accelerate a city’s caseload. Rather, such events are reasonably harmless as long as its participants adhere to wearing masks.
As such, I look forward to everyone sanctioning outdoor gatherings of all sizes provided there is proper mask compliance. My gut tells me not to hold my breath.