Large protests not responsible for rise in Florida's COVID-19 cases, state health experts say

Research indicates large protests are not responsible for the current COVID-19 spike in Florida, or in other states experiencing a surge in new cases.

In Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis has repeatedly dismissed the protests as a source for the state’s increase in community spread.

“I certainly have not had my Department of Health substantiate the protests are driving the figures with the younger people,” said DeSantis.  

Florida has ramped up contact tracing to figure out where people who tested positive have been spending their time. The state’s health experts are finding a pattern that leads not to outdoor protests, but to indoor establishments where young adults socialize and drink. 

Seminole County Medical Director Todd Husty described the pattern in a recent news conference.

“The sick individuals have all stated they’ve been around a pub, a bar, an event,” he said.

The state says the Knights Pub in the Orlando area is one example. State agents say it violated social distancing orders. More than 40 customers and staff tested positive before the state suspended its alcohol license.

 “You pack huge numbers of people indoors that are very close, you're creating an environment that you're going to see more spread,” Governor DeSantis said.

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Meanwhile, national research also found no evidence the cases and infection rates jumped due to the protests. In parts of the country that saw some of the largest protests, per-capita cases and infection rates have declined.

A National Bureau of Economic Research study of 315 cities indicates the protests discouraged many other people from going out to places that could spread the virus. The study noted this served to offset the risk of increased transmission within the protest crowds. 

While the research notes it’s possible the protest caused an increase of spread among some who attended, it also suggests protests ultimately had little effect on the spread of the pandemic across the nation.

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Governor DeSantis has linked the current spike in Florida to young adults who have not practiced social distancing in public, and some bars and restaurants who violated state orders by catering to large indoor crowds.