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Big-city mayors acknowledge anti-police riots likely caused spikes in coronavirus cases

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Despite claims in an earlier study that massive demonstrations and rallies supporting George Floyd and condemning police did nothing to help spread coronavirus, mayors in some larger cities where such protests took place and continue are admitting they likely caused some COVID-19 spiking.

The admissions come weeks after several Democrats and even some epidemiologists voiced support for Americans to disregard social distancing requirements and recommendations to engage in those protests, Fox News reported Monday.

In public statements and interviews with the network over the Independence Day weekend, officials in Seattle, Miami-Date County, Fla., and Los Angeles acknowledged that the demonstrations and rises in coronavirus cases were at least possibly linked.

Other public officials, however, refused to make that speculation when contacted by the network, while others — including the office of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio — refuted the suggestion that protests have led to spikes in COVID-19 illnesses.

“Based on our health indicators, which measure hospital admissions, number of people in ICU and percentage of New Yorkers testing positive, we have seen no indication of an uptick in cases,” the mayor’s deputy press secretary, Avery Cohen, told the network.

Last month, a study by the National Bureau of Economic Research, which used cellphone locator data to track users in 280 major urban centers around the country, said there was “no evidence, overall, that the demonstrations contributed to significant increases in COVID-19 cases.”

“While the protests themselves were large gatherings that do not match well with social distancing guidelines, the protesting population is not the only one that may have a behavioral response,” the study noted.

“For example, other individuals who did not wish to participate in the protests, perhaps due to fear of violence from police clashes or general unrest, may have chosen to avoid public spaces while protests were underway,” the study noted further. “This could have an offsetting effect, increasing social distancing behavior in other parts of the population.”

On July 4, WNBC reported that “over the course of a week, New York’s daily death toll has stayed constant, but its percentage of positive coronavirus cases rose four days straight.”

That said, New York City has seen overall declines in coronavirus, while Miami, Seattle, and Los Angeles have all seen increases, Fox News reports.

In late June, Cohen took to his Twitter feed to encourage New Yorkers to take to the streets and protest.

“Are you ready to flood the streets to fight for Black lives and against police brutality and reclaim our roots of pride? Join us today at 1 PM at FOLEY SQUARE,” said a message from the Reclaim Pride Coalition that Cohen retweeted.

Before the Floyd incident, de Blasio had been far less tolerant of any public gatherings. In late April, as coronavirus cases surged in his city, the mayor threatened the entire NYC Jewish community and sent NYPD officers to break up a large funeral procession.

But in June, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo voiced concerns that the protests could reignite coronavirus.

“If you were at a protest, go get a test, please,” he said.

It’s not as if de Blasio’s administration would even have updated coronavirus numbers as they may pertain to the demonstrations. After hiring some 1,000 contact tracers to monitor the spread of the disease, de Blasio’s office forbade them from asking whether anyone who tested positive had recently attended any protests.

Meanwhile, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti did acknowledge that the large protests were potentially responsible for spikes in coronavirus cases. But he, like de Blasio, has defended the Floyd and anti-police protests.

“I talked again with Dr. Ferrer about that this morning,” Garcetti said, in reference to Dr. Barbara Ferrer, the L.A. County public-health director, Fox News reported.

“She does think some of the spread did come from our protests,” he noted further. “It’s not the act of protesting — that’s a great and American thing to do no matter what your opinion is… but protesting without maintaining physical distancing, without wearing your mask, without having sanitizer – we just have to be smart.”

A spokesperson for Miami Mayor Carlos A. Giménez said the demonstrations were a “contributing factor” in the rise of cases in that city.

Noting that the mayor “meets several times a week with his team of medical experts,” spokeswoman Patty Abril added in an email to Fox News that the “experts have told him that, based on information in our local emergency rooms, the protests were a contributing factor, along with our community letting its guard down and not social distancing or wearing masks, as mandated.”

She added that other factors such as graduation parties also contributed.

Jon Dougherty

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