STANFORD, CA — A group of Stanford University economists sought to connect some 30,000 coronavirus infections and 700 deaths to 18 campaign rallies held by president Donald Trump in a new study published Friday. The working paper, which has not yet been peer reviewed, analyzed rising case numbers that followed rallies held from June to September.
Trump has long been accused of hosting "super-spreader" events along his campaign trail, as thousands have packed together to watch the president speak. Many attendees, including the president himself, did not wear masks.
And three of the rallies were held indoors, which some public health officials have decried.
And while the numbers in the study are not based on individual cases directly traced back to the 18 rallies, the authors of the study maintain that their analysis accurately demonstrates how the rallies accelerated the rate of spread among attendees, and whoever they may have come into contact with after.
"The communities in which Trump rallies took place paid a high price in terms of disease and death," the authors wrote.
The group examined the spread of the virus after each event in that particular region and compared those case numbers to parts of the country that didn't host rallies.
The findings, the authors write, suggest that the 18 events taking place from June 20 to Sept. 12, on average, increased confirmed cases of COVID-19 by more than 250 per 100,000 residents.
"Extrapolating this figure to the entire sample, we conclude that these eighteen rallies ultimately resulted in more than 30,000 incremental confirmed cases of COVID-19," the authors wrote.
The paper was published just days before Election Day, in which voters will choose the next president of the U.S. Due to the timing, the study has been deemed politically charged by some.
White House Spokesman Judd Deere said the study was "flawed" and "politically driven."
“As the president has said, the cure cannot be worse than the disease,” Deere said in a statement on Saturday, according to the New York Times. “This country should be open armed with best practices and freedom of choice to limit the spread of Covid-19.”
B. Douglas Bernheim, chair of Stanford University's economics department, has reportedly refuted this, maintaining that it is common practice for economists to post their working papers online before submitting it for peer-review, he told the New York Times, adding that politics were not the motivation for the effort.
Bernheim told multiple news outlets that the study was published to raise awareness, and help policymakers recognize the risks and tradeoffs associated with holding large scale public gatherings during a global pandemic.
The paper has reportedly drawn criticism from a few public health officials, who have deduced that the analytical methods used to quantify this number of infections and deaths may be inaccurate.
“There are better ways to look at this data through actual infectious disease epidemic lenses,” Michael Mina, an epidemiologist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, told POLITICO. “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.”
Joe Biden knows that the presidency is the duty to care, and to fight for all Americans - regardless of their politics.
Donald Trump doesn't even care about the very lives of his strongest supporters, let alone anyone else's. https://t.co/h2VRb6pTpI
— Andrew Bates (@AndrewBatesNC) October 31, 2020
Trump supporters have also long argued that the rallies held by Trump were disproportionately condemned as unsafe compared to protests supporting the Black Lives Matter movement, which led to thousands crowding streets across the county during the summer.
After Trump's June indoor rally in Tulsa, Trump campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh told the Associated Press that the campaign went to great lengths to protect attendees.
“There were literally no health precautions to speak of as thousands looted, rioted, and protested in the streets and the media reported that it did not lead to a rise in coronavirus cases,” Murtaugh said, according to the Associated Press. “Meanwhile, the President’s rally was 18 days ago, all attendees had their temperature checked, everyone was provided a mask, and there was plenty of hand sanitizer available for all."
But the Stanford study isn't the first time a Trump rally has been linked to a significant jump in coronavirus case numbers.
After that rally in particular, Tulsa County recorded 261 cases on the following Monday and a another 206 cases the next day, a record high.
“In the past few days, we’ve seen almost 500 new cases, and we had several large events just over two weeks ago, so I guess we just connect the dots,” Tulsa City-County Health Department Director Dr. Bruce Dart told the Associated Press in July.
And although the 30,000 infections and 700 deaths are an estimate, the findings of the study illustrate what public health officials have been saying all along about the risks behind holding mass gatherings, particularly those that are indoor, with unmasked attendees, the authors wrote.
Trump's attitude and rhetoric toward the virus during campaign rallies has also differed vastly from Biden's.
"If you get it, you are going to get better and then you’re going to be immune, and it's a whole thing and it goes away, but the vaccines will help," Trump said on an airport tarmac in Waterford Township, Michigan Friday.
On the same day, Biden was urging Americans to mask up to save lives at the Iowa State Fairgrounds.
"Donald Trump refuses to listen to science," Biden said at the fairgrounds. That day he also tweeted, "I'm not going to shut down the country. I'm not going to shut down the economy. I'm going to shut down the virus."
I'm not going to shut down the country.
I'm not going to shut down the economy.
I'm going to shut down the virus.
— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) October 30, 2020