Story at a glance

  • Americans have been gathering to protest stay-at-home orders and other preventative measures.
  • Cellphone data shows that some protestors have been traveling long distances to attend protests.
  • Public health officials have warned that they could be aiding the spread of the coronavirus.

One of the first steps public officials took to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus was to restrict public gatherings. Now, claiming their first amendment rights, demonstrators across the country are violating social distancing measures to protest stay-at home orders and other emergency measures. 


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Public health officials have warned that such gatherings are ripe for the spread of disease, especially COVID-19, to large numbers of people. Cellphone data shows that some protestors may have travelled hundreds of miles and across state borders, potentially widening the spread of the disease. 

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The Committee to Protect Medicare, a progressive campaign group, and data scientists at the firm VoteMap used anonymized location data from opt-in cellphone apps to track the movement of devices at protest locations in Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, Colorado and Florida, according to the Guardian. One device traveled over 180 miles, while others crossed state borders into neighboring states. 


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Following protests in Lansing, Michigan, the Detroit Metro Times reported that at least 24 counties saw a higher rate of increase in new cases than those in metro Detroit's tri-county area, the site of the initial outbreak. 

 "These reckless actions threaten to set back all our efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19 and reduce the rate of infections. When more than 63,000 Americans have lost their lives, we must redouble our efforts in following science and data to flatten the curve and save lives and that means staying home, staying safe and avoiding dangerous publicity stunts like we’ve seen in Michigan and elsewhere,” said the Committee to Protect Medicare executive director Rob Davidson.


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Published on May 18, 2020