How much did protests contribute to Los Angeles’ COVID-19 surge?

Some claims on social media blame the protests for LA’s surge in COVID-19 infections. But data is sparse.

July 23, 2020
Category: Fact-Checking

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My little brother is a filmmaker in Los Angeles. As a husband and father of two in a precarious industry, he texts me with COVID-19 questions all the time: Do you think LA will close up again? What’s going to happen to the economy when unemployment checks run out?

Recently he asked something along the lines of: How much did the LA demonstrations following the police killing of George Floyd contribute to the region’s now surging COVID-19 infections?

The spike in cases pushed Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti on Sunday to warn the city “is on the brink” of issuing a new stay-at-home order.

The question about a link between the protests and increased infections gained renewed significance for some last week as Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered sweeping closures of non-essential businesses statewide and prohibited most schools from reopening their campuses at the start of the fall semester.

Reacting to Newsom’s mandates, conservative groups and a prominent GOP state lawmaker suggested the crowds at the demonstrations are to blame for the surge in Los Angeles and across the state — and not the churches, restaurants, salons and other businesses that were forced to shutter.

The claims by the conservative groups are far from scientific and go against the general findings of a National Bureau of Economic Research working paper, which has yet to be peer reviewed but found protests did not lead to a jump in cases in most large cities across the United States, though it did not evaluate Los Angeles.

To learn more about how LA’s protests might have contributed, PolitiFact spoke with infectious disease experts and reviewed public briefings by LA County officials.

Garcetti and Los Angeles County public health director Barbara Ferrer have both acknowledged a link between the events.

Still, health experts said, figuring out just how deep that connection goes is no simple matter.

Click here to read more.

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Alex Mahadevan is a senior multimedia reporter at MediaWise. He can be reached at amahadevan@poynter.org or on Twitter at @AlexMahadevan. Follow MediaWise on TikTok.