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House GOP leader suggests without evidence that protests are driving up coronavirus cases


House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) speaks at his weekly news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., June 25, 2020.

Yuri Gripas | Reuters

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy on Monday partly blamed spikes in the number of coronavirus cases nationwide on demonstrations in support of Black Lives Matter.

Dozens of states have reported increases in the number of confirmed coronavirus cases after reopening some businesses, with at least 12 states pushing their seven-day average of daily new cases to a record high last week, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. 

“We phased in the openings and we knew something like this could happen but maybe not to this extent,” McCarthy, a Republican, said in an interview on CNBC’s Squawk Box. 

California, which McCarthy represents, is among the states that has seen a substantial increase in the number of coronavirus cases in recent weeks. California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Sunday ordered the closure of bars in Los Angeles and neighboring counties due to the spike. The governors of Texas and Florida also ordered bars to be closed following dramatic upticks in their states.

“The bars but also compounded on that, the protests,” McCarthy said without citing any specific evidence linking protests to a rise in cases. “When I looked at that drone view of [Los Angeles], where it was almost a mile-long shoulder-to-shoulder of people and they’re expressing, they’re vocal … and now we’re finding that’s the easiest way to transmit to one another, the long periods of time next to one another.”

A protester wearing a mask holds a large black power raised fist in the middle of the crowd that gathered at Columbus Circle.

Ira L. Black | Getty Images

Nationwide protests followed the police killing of George Floyd, as demonstrators called for justice, accountability, and police reform. Floyd, 46, died on Memorial Day in Minneapolis while in police custody during an investigation into whether he had used a counterfeit $20 bill. 

Now-fired officer Derek Chauvin, 44, has been charged with second-degree murder among other charges, while three other officers involved have been charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder.

Demonstrations have occurred for weeks in states like New York, but there’s been a steady decline in the number of new cases since the state has moved deeper into its reopening efforts. Earlier this month, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo encouraged anyone engaging in protest or demonstration to get tested for the coronavirus.

As the protests gained steam, some health officials began to warn about the potential spread of the coronavirus. 

“Masks can help, but it’s masks plus physical separation,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, in an interview with ABC News weeks ago.

“When you get congregations like we saw with the demonstrations, that’s taking a risk,” continued Fauci, a member of the White House coronavirus task force.

Over the weekend, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar also urged protesters to “consider your individual circumstance, consider the circumstance of those you live with and take appropriate precautions.”

It’s not yet clear how the protests have impacted the spread of the coronavirus. But one study from the National Bureau of Economic Research has found no evidence that the protests have led to a spike in the number of coronavirus cases. 

The study used data from protests in 315 of the largest U.S. cities to estimate the impacts of mass protests on social distancing and COVID-19 case growth. “We find no evidence that urban protests reignited COVID-19 case growth during the more than three weeks following protest onset,” the study said. 

The outbreak has spread to dozens of countries, with more than 10.1 million confirmed cases worldwide and over 502,048 deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. The U.S. has had at least 2.5 million cases and 125,803 deaths, according to the latest tallies.

— CNBC’s Will Feuer contributed to this report.



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