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Social Justice Protests Not a Major Driver of COVID-19 Surges, National Report Says

Recent social justice protests did not cause a surge in COVID-19 cases, according to the latest Rutgers-Harvard-Northeastern-Northwestern survey data from The COVID-19 Consortium for Understanding the Public’s Policy Preferences Across States.

Rutgers scholar Katherine Ognyanova, a collaborator on the report, is available to comment on the findings. To view the full report and findings, click here.

The researchers surveyed 37,325 people across all 50 states plus the District of Columbia in two waves from June 12-28 June and July 10-26 in 2020. The researchers evaluated whether COVID-19 cases surged more in states where large crowds gathered for social justice demonstrations.

“There is a clear and significant negative correlation between the percentage of a state’s population who reported protesting and the subsequent increase in cases of COVID-19,” the researchers said. “Thus, for example, Washington D.C., which had by far the highest reported participation rates in the protests at 13.7%, had a relatively low increase in cases during this period. A fuller analysis -- beyond the scope of this report -- requires incorporation of the various factors that have driven the surge of cases the last two months, such as changes in mobility and adherence to health guidelines (such as mask wearing) by the broader population in each state, and a variety of state policies. For example, our data also indicate that individuals in states with higher levels of protests also had higher levels of compliance with mask wearing.

“In any case, it is hard to square the negative correlation between the percentage of the state population that participated in protests and the change in new cases with the proposition that the protests were a major driver of the recent surge in cases in the United States.”

Katherine Ognyanova is an assistant professor at Rutgers’ School of Communication and Information. She does research in the areas of network science, computational social science, social technology, media, civic, and political communication.

Additional collaborators on the report include: David Lazer, Alexi Quintana, Matthew Simonson and Hanyu Chwe of Northeastern University; Matthew A. Baum and John Della Volpe of Harvard University; James Druckman of Northwestern University; Roy H. Perlis and Mauricio Santillana of Harvard Medical School

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