The Protest Wave: COVID-19, Perceptions of Science, and Mass Events

Michael Siegel

Michael Siegel is an astronomer living in Pennsylvania. He blogs at his own site, and has written a novel.

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33 Responses

  1. Damon says:

    “They have allowed politics to get injected into a debate that is ultimately about science. They have taken sides. And we will all pay for that.”

    The first people who will pay are the people who wrote the letter. They now will be ignored by a significant part of the population. Nice going dipshits–your credibility is gone…you’ll never be trusted again.

    Didn’t we just have a posting about stupid in science? And here we are again.Report

  2. Oscar Gordon says:

    It amazes me how dumb smart people can be. I can only imagine this is partly to blame.Report

  3. Jaybird says:

    Yeah, the main thing that I am hoping is that being outside (with even a small breeze) is enough to protect most folks.

    I worry that being outside (even without a small breeze) is good when you’re keeping social distancing (like, for example, joggers or bike riders would do) but if you have a group of friends who are all walking or sitting together for an hour or so and social distancing is, at best, intermittent then there may be a problem.

    Many of the pictures of the protests that I’ve seen seemed to have involved people not particularly engaging in social distancing. And, as far as I can tell, for hours. Hours and hours.

    Maybe it’ll be okay. They were outside, after all.Report

  4. Dark Matter says:

    The Experts weren’t willing to sacrifice their own sacred cow and their expertise became an excerise in “I want this”.Report

  5. Pinky says:

    This article contrasts the signers of the letter with the real experts. On what basis? I looked around a little on the net, but I couldn’t find a list of the signers. The CNN link to the letter ends with, “This letter is signed by 1,288 public health professionals, infectious diseases professionals, and community stakeholders.”Report

  6. LeeEsq says:

    One reason why we are having these gigantic protests compared to other times is because of the shut downs. Becase many people are out of work or working less and have a lot of pent up energy from being at home, these protests are not only a way to further justice but a way to get out of the house and do something. If the murder of George Floyd happened without Covid-19 raging, the public reaction would probably be a lot smaller. Covid-19, including Trump’s malign neglect towards it, is something fueling the protests indirectly at least.

    The experts themselves were stuck between a rock and a hard place. There is a lot of distrust of the medical establishment in African-American communities in general. Saying that you are of course against police brutality but can’t support the protests because of Covid-19 would do nothing to help this. Therefore, they kind of had to sign off on the protests even though it might not be medically sound.

    Basically, the protests massive size is really only because of Covid-19 giving people more freedom from work than they normally would have. They can basically protest near 24/7 if they want to. This ability to do massive or long protests has led to faster action on reform than previously possible. This might cause a massive Covid-19 spike but people aren’t going to calm their passions when it comes to time for what they see as a political necessity.Report

    • gabriel conroy in reply to LeeEsq says:

      Saying that you are of course against police brutality but can’t support the protests because of Covid-19 would do nothing to help this. Therefore, they kind of had to sign off on the protests even though it might not be medically sound.

      The choice isn’t necessarily so stark. They can say they support the protests but warn that protests carry potentially significant risks. The OP is taking to task a statement that seemed to suggest the risks didn’t apply.

      I’d also add to one of the assumptions you make in your comment. You suggest that one cause of the protests (or at least the severity or, for lack of a better word, “popularity” of the protests) is pent up energy and freedom from work. I’m that plays a part, but I’d also add desperation. Some people are really hurting from the lockdown.

      (Of course, the main reason/cause is police brutality.)Report

  7. Kazzy says:

    I believe we are on day 13 of the protests. If they were going to cause a spike, would that begin to show in the data?

    A complicating factor is that many states began re-opening in the last 2-4 weeks. So there may well be spikes but exactly what they are attributable to might be hard to parse out without contract tracing or other really careful analysis of the data.Report

    • Michael Siegel in reply to Kazzy says:

      There’s been a slight rise over the last week or two. But the problem is exponential growth. COVID has a median 5-day incubation period, then another week or two before symptoms get bad enough to go the hospital. In that time, more people get infected. The numbers we are seeing now are from who was infected about two weeks ago. But a small number will grow very fast.

      Remember, we had 15 cases in February. By March it was 3000. By April it was half a million. So 3000 infected protester may take a month to develop into hundreds of thousands of new cases.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Michael Siegel says:

        Thanks. That is some helpful context.

        I’ve grown really weary of the politicization of all this. “FLORIDA OPENED BEACHES YESTERDAY AND PEOPLE DIED OF COVID TODAY SO OBVIOUSLY THEY’RE WRONG!”

        My hunch is that we will see a rise in cases over the next few weeks.
        Some of that will be due to continued increases in testing.
        Some of that will be due to protests.
        Some of that will be due to re-opening.

        Everyone will cite the cause that best supports whatever their position is and ignore the rest.Report

        • Mike Schilling in reply to Kazzy says:

          I will say once more: The only good measure is excess deaths, becasuse everything else will be gamed.Report

          • Pinky in reply to Mike Schilling says:

            Excess deaths is a measure of the impact of Covid-19 and everything else. We know that suicide prevention hotlines have been seeing record numbers of calls. People have been cancelling regular medical checkups by the tens of thousands. We’ve had only one city’s medical system get overwhelmed, but during the time it was, how many operations were postponed? How many ICU patients received reduced treatment?Report

  8. Kazzy says:

    “To give an example of the uncertainty here: we currently have about a million people with active infections of the virus in the United States. But that’s confirmed test results, so the real number is probably more like five million, based on the number of deaths.”

    Can you clarify and/or cite this here? It is my understanding that we have 2M total confirmed cases in the US throughout the entire timeline. You are saying there are 1M total confirmed people actively sick right now? And that the number is closer to 5M people actively sick right now based on extrapolating from the death stats?Report

    • Michael Cain in reply to Kazzy says:

      I keep waiting for the daily deaths graphic on the front page of the Washington Post to start going back up. I have a normally sane friend who claims the reason it is not is because Florida, Georgia, and the rest of the southern states are flat-out lying about cases and deaths.Report

    • Michael Siegel in reply to Kazzy says:

      Yes. The link shows 1 million active infections out of 2 million total infections. But with 100,000 deaths and a 1% IFR, that implies the number of total infections is more like 10 million, with 5 million active.Report

  9. DavidTC says:

    Yes, there were some white nationalists involved. But about one in five Americans opposed the lockdown.

    I had to reread this several times. But I finally realized: Oh, the writer thinks that that 20% of Americans couldn’t possibly be white nationalists, and that is a very obvious and true fact he has used to juxtapose those two sentences with a ‘but’! He’s saying, as he thinks the number of white nationalists is obviously less than 20%, all the protestors couldn’t be white nationalists, because there were more of them than white nationalists!

    Like, there was a complete syllogism failure in my reading. For like 30 seconds, I failed to be able to connect those two sentence.

    Now, before anyone tries to cite percentages of actual white nationalists, my point was merely ‘Less than 20% of Americans are white nationalists’ is merely not the blatantly obvious fact that the sentence structure assumes, causing me confusion, not that fact is objectively untrue. It may be true, it’s just…not particularly obvious from where I sit.

    Now…the fact the syllogism doesn’t work doesn’t make the conclusion false. The people objecting to the lockdown were not white nationalists. They were objecting for a lot of very different reasons. Some stupid, some of them extremely stupid ‘own the libs’ reasons, some had reasonable concerns, other had personal concerns that were more about their business and whatnot, but…they get to have opinions, and they had a point. A lot of smaller businesses were seriously hurt. I tend to think they should have protested for a _different_ solution to that…but, I’m not going to stand there and say they can’t. Or that such a thing is racist!

    My point was just…it’s sorta funny that someone in 2020 would make a post that implicitly had ‘of course 20% of the population can’t possibly be white nationalists’. Cause…yeah. Yeah they could. Welcome to Trump’s America.Report

    • DavidTC in reply to DavidTC says:

      Oh, and if anyone wants the actual numbers: 8% of Americans say they support white nationalism, way back in 2017. Another 20% said they didn’t ‘support or oppose it’.

      What the numbers are now, I don’t know, and more importantly…I kinda suspect some people might be lying.Report

      • Brandon Berg in reply to DavidTC says:

        On what survey are you basing this? I recall looking into similar claims a couple of years ago and determining that they didn’t really check out.Report

        • DensityDuck in reply to Brandon Berg says:

          “do you think that social media services should delete content that users find politically objectionable?”

  10. Trump is restarting MAGA rallies. This will no doubt be explained as a reaction to the protests, since Republicans, as always, have no agency.Report

    • George Turner in reply to Mike Schilling says:

      No, we’re going to call them George Floyd protests so health experts can’t object to them. 🙂Report

      • Jaybird in reply to George Turner says:

        As much as it would “own” the “libs” to find a loophole in the law…

        As poorly as it reflects on the public health experts who argued that fighting injustice was more important than fighting COVID-19…

        Getting a bunch of people indoors and whooping and hollering at the top of their lungs would be bad. The people who are saying “you shouldn’t do this” are right. Even if they were wrong about how it was okay to protest.

        “But the rioters were allowed to riot!”, I hear you rejoin. “That’s not fair!”

        Life is, indeed, not fair.Report

        • DensityDuck in reply to Jaybird says:

          Sure, life isn’t fair, but you can throw that right back at the people who spent lots and lots and lots of words explaining very patiently how social gatherings that look like this are actually okay.

          Like, they can say “it isn’t fair that you’re using my words to justify your behavior, because my words were only for me“, and we can reply that life is, indeed, not fair.Report

          • Jaybird in reply to DensityDuck says:

            If what happened if you got the virus was that you got diarrhea, it’d be funny.

            That’s not what the virus does.

            I mean, we could all just step back after the protests/riots and say “just wait for it… wait for it… hey, we should all go to the stores and swoop up all of the Imodium and Pepto and sell it to people looking for it for 10X the price!”

            But that’s not what the virus does.Report

            • DensityDuck in reply to Jaybird says:

              What you say makes sense, but what also makes sense to people is “if ten thousand dudes get together in the street and have a big party and the government says anything other than ‘don’t do that’ then Rona’s fuckin’ over, man.”

              And ten thousand dudes got together in the street and had a big party, and the government said “um, maintain social distancing and, like, wear a mask? Black Lives Matter!” And people said “welp. There it is.Report

              • Chip Daniels in reply to DensityDuck says:

                “And Grandpa’s last words, as he wheezed thru the ventilator, were ‘Boy, I really owned the libs, didn’t I?”Report

              • DensityDuck in reply to Chip Daniels says:

                Chip, don’t you think that Black Lives Matter? Do you think that we should suppress legitimate protest of police violence against persons of color?

                “Oh, you don’t mean that, you’re just arguing in bad faith!” Brother, after three months of telling us that it was vital to the survival of humanity that we let our parents die alone and go unburied, saying that big gathering crowds are actually okay looks like bad faith.Report

              • Chip Daniels in reply to DensityDuck says:

                I don’t know why its so difficult to hold that yes, large gatherings spread the virus, and yes, the BLM protesters thought it was worth the risk.

                If people feel that attending a MAGA rally is worth the risk then that’s their statement of priorities.Report

              • Pinky in reply to Chip Daniels says:

                This is one of those positive versus normative things. Of course it’s factually correct to say that people who do deliberately something that endangers others’ lives are doing so deliberately. But their actions are awful.Report

              • Dark Matter in reply to Chip Daniels says:

                “And Grandpa’s last words, as he wheezed thru the ventilator, were ‘Boy, I really owned the libs, didn’t I?”

                Most of those protests were measured in dozens of people, their combined total was probably less than 10k. My expectation is we can find 10k people who think the Earth is flat.

                If that’s large enough to be a problem for spreading Covid, then it’s weird that the current protests which might total millions (i.e. 100x the previous) aren’t.Report

              • Chip Daniels in reply to Dark Matter says:

                Who is saying the protests aren’t spreading the virus?

                Seems to me that health professionals are just offering methods of harm reduction in protests.

                Whether the protests spread the virus will be determined on how many were wearing masks or washing their hands afterwards.Report

              • Aaron David in reply to DensityDuck says:

                To your point Duck