Image via Shutterstock Make America Great rally in 2018
Image via Shutterstock

More than 112,000 Americans have died of COVID-19, including over 6,000 in the first week of June.

President Trump plans to resume holding campaign rallies in the next two weeks, even as the United States closes in on 2 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 14 states have documented record-high cases of new infections.

Campaign advisers are still deciding where the rallies will take place and which safety measures to implement, but campaign manager Brad Parscale is expected to present Trump with options in the next few days, according to Politico

The president, who has not held a rally since March, has been eager to resume his rallies amid plummeting poll numbers and his struggles to respond to one national crisis after another. While Trump is certain to face criticism for resuming in-person events amid a worsening pandemic, his campaign advisers believe the recent protests in the aftermath of the police killing of George Floyd will make it more difficult for Democrats to criticize him. 

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It’s impossible to argue that the coronavirus has taken a back seat over the past two weeks, as  hundreds of thousands of Americans have bravely taken to the streets to protest police brutality. In doing so, these protesters—many of whom are seen wearing masks in videos and photos—have put themselves at risk because they believe the scourge of racism and police violence is worth speaking out against. 

Still, the risk of contracting COVID-19 remains high, even if it’s been highlighted less frequently in the news in recent days. More than 112,000 Americans have died of COVID-19, including over 6,000 in the first week of June. All 50 states have now lifted at least some of their restrictions, and 45 are in the process of completely reopening. That might indicate that things are trending in the right direction, but that is not the case in many countries, including the United States, as epidemiologists have noted.

Since the beginning of June, 14 states and Puerto Rico have recorded their highest-ever seven-day average of new coronavirus cases, according to a Washington Post database: Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Florida, Kentucky, New Mexico, North Carolina, Mississippi, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Utah.

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While the growth in cases has coincided with protests, it has not been caused by them. The virus has an incubation period of 14 days, which means that the number of cases reported and the number of patients hospitalized each day don’t reflect the current state of the pandemic, but rather a “reflection of what happened two-and-a-half weeks ago,” according to Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading public health expert. 

This two-week lag time would indicate that the rising number of cases is attributable to states reopening in mid-to-late May, not the protests of the past two weeks. 

Public health officials have warned that the protests could certainly further fuel the spread of the virus, but some have also made clear that they do not blame protesters for taking to the streets. 

“I don’t think it’s fair to tell people they have to wait until the end of a pandemic to get justice. It’s also not going to be the public’s fault if the numbers go up from protesting. It’s the system that forced them to go out and protest,” Boston University epidemiologist Helen Jenkins told Wired Magazine.

Gregg Gonsalvez, an epidemiologist at Yale University, also made clear that protesters were making a choice driven by decades of inequality and public health disparities, like the ones that led COVID-19 to disproportionately devastate Black Americans. 

“The protesters are balancing competing risks to their communities, of COVID19, police violence and centuries of systemic racism, which has led to declining, but still large gaps in life expectancy, health and wellness among African Americans and their white counterparts,” he tweeted on Saturday.

Whether the protests do actually spread the virus will likely become clear as data rolls in this week and next. But one thing is already evident: The first wave of COVID-19 has not ended, and in many states and counties, the outbreak was already getting worse before the demonstrations began. 

Things are particularly grim in Arizona, where there were 4,500 new cases recorded from May 24 to May 30—a 50% increase from the week before. While the state has ramped up its testing, the increasing number of cases cannot be explained by that. Tests only increased by 14% statewide during the week ending May 30, while the number of cases increased by 50%, according to data gathered by the Arizona Daily Star. 

RELATED: Hospitals in Arizona Asked to ‘Fully Activate’ After Steady Climb of COVID-19 Cases Over Two Weeks

The state is also using far more hospital beds and ventilators than were in use in late March, when the pandemic first gained a foothold in the state. Banner Health, a nonprofit hospital system based in the state, announced Monday that the number of ventilated patients in its facilities had quadrupled since May 15. 

Arkansas, which never implemented a stay-at-home order, has seen its case count surge by nearly 30% over the past week, the Arkansas Democrat Gazette reported. In North Carolina meanwhile, the state reported a record-high 739 COVID-19 related hospitalizations on Monday. 

Even more eye-opening than the rising number of cases is that the highest percentage of new cases are coming from less populated and rural areas. On a per capita basis, the areas with the most cases have been small cities and rural communities in the Midwest and South. Lincoln County, Oregon, for example, has averaged 20 new cases per day, despite having a population of under 50,000, 

Similar patterns have emerged across the country, as the virus gains a foothold in rural America. Nineteen of the top 20 counties with the highest number of cases per capita are rural counties, according to the New York Times. All but one is located in the South or Midwest. 

As the number of cases grow, health officials are reiterating the importance of taking precautions, especially for those who find themselves in large crowds—such as those that form during campaign rallies held indoors. 

These experts have continued to sound the alarms that the pandemic remains an enormous threat, even if the President appears to disagree. Trump, who has tweeted or retweeted as many as 200 times a day in recent weeks, has not mentioned the coronavirus in a tweet since May 28. Trump may be choosing to ignore the virus, but his own top infectious disease official, Dr. Fauci, continues to speak out and emphasize the virus’ continued danger. 

“In a period of four months, it has devastated the whole world,” Fauci said on Tuesday during a conference. “And it isn’t over yet.”