Saturday, August 01, 2020

Serendipity


The most interesting, albeit uninformative, exchange in the hearing conducted by House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis on Friday took place between Dr. Anthony Fauci and Representative Jim Jordan, Republican of Ohio. 

An advocate- finally- of wearing a mask and promoting social distancing, Fauci made the rather obvious observation "Crowding together, particularly when you’re not wearing a mask, contributes to the spread of the virus."

While Fauci's objectives were to encourage responsible behavior and to avoid controversy, Jordan's aims were threefold: 1) to criticize Democrats; 2) to undermine the efforts made by the more aggressive states to curtail spread of the coronavirus; and 3) to criticize recent protests against police brutality. He concluded

Protesting, particularly according to the Democrats is just fine, but you can’t go to work. You can’t go to school. You can’t go to church. There’s limits placed on all three of those fundamental activities, First Amendment activities, but protesting is just fine.

Fauci, however, would not satisfy the congressman's itch, refusing either to criticize the protests or to acknowledge support for them, which would have the doctor to criticism that he is a liberal, a Democrat, anti-Trump, or evil combination thereof.


 

A couple of Democrats on the committee, Twitterati, and centrist and left-of-center pundits everywhere happily noted that studies have found that the black lives matter protests did not lead to an increase in the deadly disease.

Those findings are, or would have been, counter-intuitive. Although the vast majority of demonstrators wore masks and the protests obviously took place outdoors, social distancing was extremely rare. Researchers at the private non-profit National Bureau of Economic Research conducted a study, not peer-reviewed, of the 281 large USA cities which experienced protests and the 34 which did not. The study found that it

is almost certain that the protests caused a decrease in social distancing behavior among protest attendees, we demonstrate that effect of the protests on the social distancing behavior of the entire population residing in counties with large urban protests was positive. Likewise, while it is possible that the protests caused an increase in the spread of COVID-19 among those who attended the protests, we demonstrate that the protests had little effect on the spread of COVID19 for the entire population of the counties with protests during the more than three weeks following protest onset.

Black Lives Matter protests may

be viewed as dangerous by non-attendees due to the occasional presence of violence, including police response to these protests, and elicit avoidance behavior. There are other possible explanations for our findings as well, such as avoiding travel outside the home due to additional traffic congestion or street closures, or due to lack of available activities from businesses closures near protest sites. Additionally, non-attendees may perceive a higher risk of COVID-19 infection due to the protests and choose to stay home.

The researchers acknowledge the possibility that there may have been a rise in infection among the actual attendees, who are relatively young and thus less likely to exhibit symptoms and who thus would not show up in Covid-19 statistics. However, they do believe that social distancing actually increased in the cities which experienced the protests and that therefore the incidence of the disease was no higher than it would have been had there been no demonstrations.

Presumably, Dr. Fauci is aware of this and if not, should pay more attention. He could have explained all this to Jim Jordan, hence to the committee, hence to the television audience, and to the country. It could have been what is typically, patronizingly referred to as a "teaching moment," explaining that social distancing and wearing masks are both important, as is being outdoors if in a group of individuals. Instead, he chose the classic "no comment" mode, maintaining the adoration of the media and of the left without incurring the ire of President Trump. Not bad for a day's work.




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