Study links Trump rallies to more than 700 Covid deaths

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President Donald Trump’s campaign rallies between June and September may have caused some 30,000 coronavirus infections and more than 700 deaths, according to a new study by Stanford University economists.

The working paper, released late Friday, examined the impact of 18 rallies held between June 20 and Sept. 30 by comparing spread of the virus after each event to parts of the country that didn’t host rallies. The findings illustrate the risks of not heeding public health warnings to wear masks and avoid large gatherings to mitigate the risks of Covid-19, the authors — including B. Douglas Bernheim, the chair of Stanford’s economics department — wrote.

“The communities in which Trump rallies took place paid a high price in terms of disease and death,” they wrote. Fifteen of the 18 events studied were held outdoors.

Trump has drawn criticism for continuing to hold events with large, tightly packed crowds in states that are experiencing outbreaks. Many in attendance, including Trump, have not worn masks.

Bernheim told POLITICO he hopes the study will help inform policymakers understand the tradeoffs around holding large public gatherings during the pandemic.

"There’s currently this very important debate going on about the costs and benefits of lockdowns, restrictions and so forth," Bernheim said. "It’s important that debate be informed by good information."

Joe Biden’s campaign seized on the findings Saturday as evidence Trump hasn’t taken the ooronavirus pandemic seriously. "He’s even costing hundreds of lives and sparking thousands of cases with super spreader rallies that only serve his own ego,” Biden spokesperson Andrew Gates said.

Former President Barack Obama also cited the study on Saturday during an appearance with Biden in Michigan.

The White House called the study "flawed" and said it was intended to shame Trump supporters. "As the President has said, the cure cannot be worse than the disease and this country should be open armed with best practices and freedom of choice to limit the spread of Covid-19," said spokesperson Judd Deere.

Trump campaign spokesperson Courtney Parella said attendees at the rallies have their temperature checked and are given masks that they are instructed to wear. Hand sanitizer is also provided.

“Americans have the right to gather under the First Amendment to hear from the President of the United States, and we take strong precautions for our campaign events,” Parella said.

Michael Mina, an epidemiologist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said the study is reminiscent of research that tried to quantify the impact a large motorcycle rally held in Sturgis, S.D., in August had on Covid-19 spread over the summer. While the design of the Stanford study appears fine, the methods are “not particularly robust,” he cautioned.

“There are better ways to look at this data through actual infectious disease epidemic lenses,” Mina said. “It offers a data point, but nothing I would want to draw any strong conclusions from. It is also so overtly political that it makes it hard to distinguish if there were decisions made out of perhaps unrecognized bias.”

But Eleanor Murray, an assistant professor of epidemiology at Boston University School of Public Health, said the paper “applies an appropriate method with some good robustness and sensitivity checks.”

“If the key underlying assumption is realistic then the answer is probably something that could be relied upon,” Murray said.

More than 9 million people in the United States have been infected with Covid-19 and the virus has claimed the lives of more than 230,000.

Top government health officials including White House coronavirus task force coordinator Deborah Birx and HHS testing czar Brett Giroir have warned Americans taking precautions like social distancing and mask wearing are necessary as cases continue to spike to record levels ahead of the winter months.

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