New data from cellphone locations shows that protests might be spreading the coronavirus across state lines.
LANSING, MI — Wednesday marks the fourth in a series of protests in Michigan since mid-April. Doctors have been warning protesters that they might be spreading the pandemic, and in something Gov. Gretchen Whitmer called a sad irony, that could extend the stay-at-home orders they protest.
Now data is backing up this worry.
“I am concerned that the Lansing protests likely exposed a significant number of people to SARSCov2 (severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2) who then brought it back to their communities,” Dr. Rob Davidson, leader of the Committee to Protect Medicare, told The ‘Gander following that first protest. “We will not see the impact of that for a few weeks.”
New data provided to the Guardian by Davidson’s Committee shows that impact beginning to take shape. Looking at anonymized location data from cell phones provided to an opt-in service, devices were followed from anti-quarantine protests in Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, Colorado and Florida.
A visualization of the data illustrated travel to and from the Lansing protest called the American Patriot Rally in which armed protesters stormed the Capitol Building. The data showed some protesters traveling across the Indiana border and to communities over a hundred miles away.
“The sad irony here was the protest is they don’t like being in this stay-at-home order and they may have just caused a need to lengthen it,” Whitmer told reporters after that first protest.
So far it hasn’t given Michigan reason to lengthen the stay-at-home orders, which are steadily being relaxed as daily new cases of the coronavirus trend toward a stable and slow climb. But in the weeks following the initial protest, rural areas of Michigan did see a climb in confirmed cases of the coronavirus, for instance in Allegan County.
Davidson cautioned the Guardian that it isn’t possible to draw a direct line between this movement data and new confirmed cases but the protests are high-risk environments in a pandemic.
“The behavior we’re seeing at protests carries a high risk of infection. We can see protesters are going from a highly concentrated event and then dispersing widely,” Davidson told the Guardian.
This means the virus could be carried from one community to the protest and from the protest to many communities across state lines. It also seems unlikely that protesters against coronavirus protections would be likely to practice social distancing in their own communities.
Davidson, an ER doctor in rural Michigan, also explicitly has called out Trump’s role in fulmenting the protests. Talking to The ‘Gander that Trump’s leadership has undermined the efforts of medical professionals to flatten the curve and ultimately re-engage the economy as everyone eventually wants to do in a safe and responsible manner.
“I am an emergency doctor, and when you talk about healthcare workers running into death, you absolutely disparage what we do,” Davidson said in a video message to Trump. “And it is a slap into the face of the work we are doing across this country trying to help people despite your failures.”
Though the overall data is still coming in, the Independent reports that it’s anecdotally true that a leader of North Carolina’s anti-lockdown protest tested positive for the coronavirus.