WASHINGTON (WDVM) — Ahead of the Stop the Steal Rally on January 6, the CDC feared the event would be a coronavirus super spreader. In a study they recently conducted, a group of economists from San Diego State University and Bentley University concluded the protest and rally contributed to a non-localized COVID-19 spread in the month following the events. The National Bureau of Economic Research, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization, shared their findings in a working paper

Dhaval Dave, Joseph Sabia, and Drew McNichols, all of whom work in their universities’ Department of Economics, used anonymized smartphone data to track movement in the Ellipse, the National Mall, and the Capitol Building. They found a substantial increase in non-resident smartphone pings in these areas and “increased stay-at-home behavior among District of Columbia residents.” 

Dave, Sabia, and McNichols did not find evidence of COVID-19 case growth in D.C., but they did find “that counties with the highest protester inflows experienced a significant increase.” Those areas include multiple counties in Virginia, Maryland, and West Virginia and outside of the immediate area (in Pennsylvania, California, Minnesota, Arizona, Texas, Florida, Georgia, and Illinois, to name a few). 

They hypothesize that localized spread didn’t occur because of risk aversion — either staying away from D.C. to avoid violence and the possibility of contracting the virus, or in response to street closures and the “virtual lockdown” between January 6 and President Joe Biden’s inauguration. 

“While our post-treatment window captures a period beyond the incubation window of COVID-19,” the paper says, “additional weeks of data will provide a fuller picture of the public health impacts of the event.”