Assessing the epidemic impact of protests during the COVID-19 pandemic


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Protests during the COVID-19 pandemic present a complex trade-off between democratic rights of freedom of assembly and an epidemic risk, and have created a need for careful assessment of protest-driven infections. Here, we build a coupled disease transmission model and assess the impact of protests on the COVID-19 spread in the continental US using a dataset of 4,121 protests and 1.66 million protesters between April and June of 2020. We find that protests in 2020 had limited effects, creating tens of additional daily cases country-wide, due to their small size. However, a simple scaling relation of protest-driven infections derived from our simulations reveals that very large protests with over millions of participants can significantly boost outbreaks and impact the healthcare system. In the worst-case scenario, very large protests can add over 20,000 daily cases and over 7,000 ICU admissions over the continental US. We hope our model can aid the policy rationale to maintain freedom of assembly in the current and future pandemics, while providing estimates for preparations for a healthcare surge in the worst-case setting. ### Competing Interest Statement The authors have declared no competing interest. ### Funding Statement M.C. was supported by the Ministry of Universities of the Government of Spain, under the program "Convocatoria de Ayudas para la recualificacion del sistema universitario espanol para 2021-2023, de la Universidad Carlos III de Madrid, de 1 de Julio de 2021". ### Author Declarations I confirm all relevant ethical guidelines have been followed, and any necessary IRB and/or ethics committee approvals have been obtained. Yes The details of the IRB/oversight body that provided approval or exemption for the research described are given below: The study used only openly available human data. The COVID-19 statistics in the United States based on reports from state and local health agencies can be downloaded from The New York Times ( I confirm that all necessary patient/participant consent has been obtained and the appropriate institutional forms have been archived, and that any patient/participant/sample identifiers included were not known to anyone (e.g., hospital staff, patients or participants themselves) outside the research group so cannot be used to identify individuals. Yes I understand that all clinical trials and any other prospective interventional studies must be registered with an ICMJE-approved registry, such as I confirm that any such study reported in the manuscript has been registered and the trial registration ID is provided (note: if posting a prospective study registered retrospectively, please provide a statement in the trial ID field explaining why the study was not registered in advance). Yes I have followed all appropriate research reporting guidelines and uploaded the relevant EQUATOR Network research reporting checklist(s) and other pertinent material as supplementary files, if applicable. Yes All data produced in the present study are available upon reasonable request to the authors.
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Key words
epidemic impact,protests,pandemic
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