Are Trump’s rallies spreading coronavirus? Why it’s hard to know the full impact

(Reuters) – Stanford University economists estimate that President Donald Trump’s campaign rallies have resulted in 30,000 additional confirmed cases of COVID-19, and likely led to more than 700 deaths overall, according to a paper posted online this weekend.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump waves to supporters from the presidential limousine while departing a campaign rally in Newtown, Pennsylvania, U.S., on October 31, 2020. REUTERS/Tom Brenner/File Photo

The research, led by B. Douglas Bernheim, chair of economics at Stanford University, analyzed data following 18 Trump rallies held between June 20 and Sept. 22, three of which were indoors. Bernheim said in an email the work relies on statistical methods to infer causation after an event has occurred.

Infectious disease experts have long suspected that the president’s rallies ahead of the Nov. 3 election might be so-called superspreader events. But so far, scientists have not been able to get a good read on their impact, in part because of a lack of robust contact tracing in many states.

WHAT IS THE CONCERN?

In recent months, Trump has held several dozen rallies in states such as Pennsylvania, Minnesota and Wisconsin, where coronavirus infection rates were already on the rise.

At each event, several thousand people were estimated to have participated. While most of the rallies were held outdoors, video footage show that participants gathered in close proximity and many were not wearing masks, creating a risk of spreading the virus as they cheered their candidate on.

“It’s not a major stretch” to say that large unmasked gatherings are likely to spread the virus, said Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease expert at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.

Adalja said the Stanford paper was “suggestive” of spread from the events, but not definitive because it was not based on an investigation of actual cases. That would help confirm whether participants were exposed to the virus at the event, rather than other places where transmission is rampant.

WHAT DO WE KNOW?

Minnesota public health officials have attributed four COVID-19 outbreaks and more than 25 cases to Trump rallies held in the state in September and October.

An additional 11 state health departments contacted by Reuters said they had not been able to trace infections to the rallies, although some, including Michigan and Wisconsin, have determined that individual people who later tested positive for COVID-19 were present at Trump campaign events.

WHAT DATA ARE NEEDED?

Disease experts say that rigorous contact tracing from one such large event could help arrive at an accurate prediction of how infectious such rallies can be.

But the United States has fallen behind other developed countries in this regard, due to a lack of funding and coordination for contact tracing by the Trump administration.

“The problem is we’ve not done anything to get real numbers,” said Dr. Eric Topol, a genomics expert and director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute in La Jolla, California. Instead, it is subject to conjecture and mathematical models.

For

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Explainer: Are Trump’s Rallies Spreading Coronavirus? Why It’s Hard to Know the Full Impact | Top News

By Julie Steenhuysen and Carl O’Donnell

(Reuters) – Stanford University economists estimate that President Donald Trump’s campaign rallies have resulted in 30,000 additional confirmed cases of COVID-19, and likely led to more than 700 deaths overall, according to a paper posted online this weekend.

The research, led by B. Douglas Bernheim, chair of economics at Stanford University, analyzed data following 18 Trump rallies held between June 20 and Sept. 22, three of which were indoors. Bernheim said in an email the work relies on statistical methods to infer causation after an event has occurred.

Infectious disease experts have long suspected that the president’s rallies ahead of the Nov. 3 election might be so-called superspreader events. But so far, scientists have not been able to get a good read on their impact, in part because of a lack of robust contact tracing in many states.

In recent months, Trump has held several dozen rallies in states such as Pennsylvania, Minnesota and Wisconsin, where coronavirus infection rates were already on the rise.

At each event, several thousand people were estimated to have participated. While most of the rallies were held outdoors, video footage show that participants gathered in close proximity and many were not wearing masks, creating a risk of spreading the virus as they cheered their candidate on.

“It’s not a major stretch” to say that large unmasked gatherings are likely to spread the virus, said Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease expert at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.

Adalja said the Stanford paper was “suggestive” of spread from the events, but not definitive because it was not based on an investigation of actual cases. That would help confirm whether participants were exposed to the virus at the event, rather than other places where transmission is rampant.

Minnesota public health officials have attributed four COVID-19 outbreaks and more than 25 cases to Trump rallies held in the state in September and October.

An additional 11 state health departments contacted by Reuters said they had not been able to trace infections to the rallies, although some, including Michigan and Wisconsin, have determined that individual people who later tested positive for COVID-19 were present at Trump campaign events.

Disease experts say that rigorous contact tracing from one such large event could help arrive at an accurate prediction of how infectious such rallies can be.

But the United States has fallen behind other developed countries in this regard, due to a lack of funding and coordination for contact tracing by the Trump administration.

“The problem is we’ve not done anything to get real numbers,” said Dr. Eric Topol, a genomics expert and director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute in La Jolla, California. Instead, it is subject to conjecture and mathematical models.  

For example, scientists can use gene sequencing to trace minute changes in the genetic code of the virus as it passes from one person to another, allowing them to develop a map of where the virus travels. Such work has been

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A new coronavirus variant is seen spreading across Europe, research says

  • A new variant of the coronavirus, identified as 20A.EU1 by researchers from Switzerland and Spain, was first observed in Spain in June.
  • It has been recorded in Spain at frequencies of above 40% since July, the study said.
  • Elsewhere, the new variant of the coronavirus has increased from “very low” values prior to July 15 to 40% to 70% in Switzerland, Ireland, and the U.K. in September.
  • It was also found to be prevalent in Norway, Latvia, the Netherlands, and France.



a person walking down a street next to a building: A waiter sweeps the street of a tapas bar area near Elvira street on October 24, 2020 in Granada, Spain.


© Provided by CNBC
A waiter sweeps the street of a tapas bar area near Elvira street on October 24, 2020 in Granada, Spain.

LONDON — A variant of the coronavirus that is believed to have originated in Spain has spread across Europe and now accounts for most of the new cases reported in several countries in the region, according to the findings of a new study.

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The research, which is due to published on Thursday and has not been peer reviewed, details how an international team of scientists has closely monitored the coronavirus through its genetic mutations.

Each variant of the coronavirus has its own genetic signature, meaning it can be traced back to the place it first emerged.

It says a new variant of the disease, identified as 20A.EU1 by researchers from Switzerland and Spain, was first observed in Spain in June. The new variant has been recorded in Spain at frequencies of above 40% since July, the study said.

Elsewhere, the new variant of the coronavirus has increased from “very low” values prior to July 15 to 40% to 70% in Switzerland, Ireland, and the U.K. in September. It was also found to be prevalent in Norway, Latvia, the Netherlands, and France.

New lockdowns will lead to ‘severe’ economic contractions, economist says, particularly in France

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Researchers of the study said they had no direct evidence to suggest the new variant of the virus spreads faster than other mutations, despite the rise in frequency across multiple countries.

It also said there was currently no data to assess the severity of the disease, and while 20A.EU1 was dominant in some countries, it had not taken over everywhere and diverse variants of the coronavirus “continue to circulate across Europe.”

The authors of the study comprised of researchers from the University of Basel, the Biomedicine Institute of Valencia, and the University of Valencia, among others.

What are the implications?

The findings of the study indicate that people returning from vacations in Spain may have played a role in spreading the new variant of the virus across Europe.

It also raises questions about whether a recent upsurge in the number of new reported Covid-19 infections across the region could have been capped by stricter travel measures and improved screening at airports and other transport hubs.

“It is currently unclear whether this variant is spreading because of a transmission advantage of the virus or whether high incidence in Spain followed by dissemination through tourists is

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Coronavirus in the U.S. is spreading like ‘wildfire,’ epidemiologist says

Coronavirus cases are climbing at an alarming rate in the U.S., raising fears that parts of the country are in a third wave of Covid-19.

Nationwide, cases Friday were 79,303, the second day in a row of record-setting confirmed new cases of the coronavirus. Over the weekend, the U.S. added 79,059 cases on Saturday and 64,603 cases on Sunday according to an NBC News tally. According to the COVID Tracking Project, the 7-day average for new cases of the coronavirus is 69,692, the highest number to date. There are also nearly 43,000 Americans hospitalized with Covid-19, the highest number since August 19th.

Fewer than 10 states in the country are not experiencing increases of infection.

During an outbreak, a “wave” comes from the curve used to visualize the number of people infected. If more people get sick every day, the curve goes up. If fewer people get sick every day, the curve goes down. Even during the summer, experts say cases in the U.S. never got to a low-enough level of new cases to make it out of the first wave from the spring when cases rose astronomically.

“I look at it more as an elongated exacerbation of the original first wave,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said Monday at an annual event for Yahoo Finance. “It’s kind of semantics. You want to call it the third wave or an extended first wave, no matter how you look at it, it’s not good news.”

Fauci and other experts are particularly concerned that the recent surge in cases is starting from a higher baseline of roughly 40,000 cases per day, compared with 20,000 cases per day during the summer surge.

“Each wave we start from a higher baseline and we start climbing,” Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health said, noting that during the summer, infections were rising most in the South and Southwest. “This time, it’s all around the country and we’re heading into winter, where the virus becomes more efficient in spreading.”

Still, Jha said the terminology isn’t as important as Americans understanding that the growth of new cases can quickly become exponential.

“The metaphor of a wildfire is probably better,” said William Hanage, an associate professor of epidemiology at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “It’s indisputable that the U.S. is now seeing a pretty widespread transmission across the board.”

Unlike a wave, which comes and passes through, wildfires can be patchy and more intense in areas, similar to the situation in the U.S., Hanage said. Community mitigation efforts such as masking and social distancing can stamp out the spread, but then infections tend to pop up in other areas with more relaxed measures.

Tara Smith, an infectious diseases epidemiologist at Kent State University in Ohio, is not a fan of the wave terminology. “That implies there’s a trough, and our cases have never really declined that significantly,” she said.

Small gatherings

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As the holidays near, the coronavirus is spreading rapidly, putting families in a quandary

“Covid doesn’t care that it’s a holiday, and unfortunately covid is on the rise across the nation,” she said. “Now is not the time to let our guard down and say it’s the holiday and let’s be merry. I think we need to maintain our vigilance here.”

The coronavirus pandemic numbers have been going the wrong direction for more than a month, topping 80,000 newly confirmed infections daily across the country, with hospitalizations rising in more than three dozen states and deaths creeping upward. Now, the United States is barreling toward another inflection point: a holiday season dictated by the calendar and demanded by tradition.

The anticipated surge in interstate travel, family gatherings and indoor socializing is expected to facilitate the spread of covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. This isn’t like the run-up to Memorial Day or Independence Day: Barbecues outdoors, or pool parties, aren’t on the itinerary of many people.

The fall and winter holidays are homey by nature. Respiratory viruses thrive in dry, warm indoor conditions in which people crowd together. The statistical peak of flu season typically comes close on the heels of Christmas and New Year’s. Colder weather is already driving people indoors.

The government’s top doctors have said they believe the recent national spike in infections has largely been driven by household transmission. Superspreader events have gotten a lot of attention, but it’s the prosaic meals with family and friends that are driving up caseloads.

This trend presents people with difficult individual choices — and those choices carry societal consequences. Epidemiologists look at the broad effect of a contagion, not simply the effects on individuals. Thanksgiving, for example, is an extremely busy travel period in America. The coronavirus exploits travelers to spread in places where it has been sparse or absent.

“I am nervous about Thanksgiving,” said Andrew Noymer, an epidemiologist at the University of California at Irvine. “I’m nervous because I know what happens when you multiply the risks by millions of households.”

The scientists are not telling people to cancel their holiday plans, necessarily. But they are urging people to think of alternative ways to celebrate. They do not say it explicitly, but they are encouraging a kind of rationing of togetherness.

“This is not the cold. This is not the flu. This is much worse. People are dying. Our well-being as a country depends on us getting this thing under control,” Alexander said.

Public-health officials doubt an elegant way exists to finesse the 2020 pandemic-shrouded holidays with minimal disruption — for example, by working through a checklist of best practices that include timely testing, scrupulous social distancing and disciplined mask-wearing. Instead, people will need to make serious adjustments as they calculate the risks and rewards of holiday gatherings.

“There’s no easy answer here, just like with everything else. It’s not about safe or unsafe. It’s about figuring out how to balance various risks and keeping risks as low as possible,” Harvard epidemiologist Julia Marcus said.

“This is not a

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