Fact check: Politicians on both sides of the aisle have flouted COVID-19 guidelines

The claim: Several Democratic politicians urge social distancing and issuing stay-at-home advisories but host or attend gatherings

As coronavirus cases surge across the USA, which reported its 13 millionth case last week, political leaders across the country are ramping up restrictions to slow the virus’s spread.

But a recent Facebook post from the page Occupy Democrats Logic points to several instances of Democratic politicians reportedly not practicing what they preach.

The post, which included a screenshot of a Nov. 13 tweet from conservative political commentator Liz Wheeler, claimed California Gov. Gavin Newsom, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi each flouted COVID-19 policies by attending or hosting large gatherings.

“Are people really ok with this hypocrisy?!” Wheeler’s tweet reads.

In the comments section on the Facebook post, several users cast doubt on social distancing and shutdown policies, in light of these politicians’ alleged behavior.

Occupy Democrats Logic deleted the post after USA TODAY reached out for comment, though other Facebook users have also shared Wheeler’s tweet.

More: Fact check: What's true and what's false about coronavirus?

Some truth to claims of politicians hosting or attending gatherings

Newsom did, in fact, attend a Nov. 6 birthday party at a restaurant with a dozen friends (not dozens, as Wheeler’s tweet claims), despite urging Californians to resist the temptation to socialize.

Wheeler’s tweet also claims Newsom has banned gatherings of more than 10 people. California state guidelines actually limit gatherings to no more than three households, The Associated Press reported, though it is unclear whether the rule applies to restaurants, which follow different guidance.

Newsom later apologized for attending the dinner, calling it a “bad mistake.”

Likewise, Lightfoot did join a crowd celebrating President-elect Joe Biden’s win on Nov. 7, later issuing a voluntary stay-at-home advisory on Nov. 12.

In an interview with MSNBC, Lightfoot defended her choice to join the crowd, saying, “There are times when we actually do need to have relief and come together, and I felt like that was one of those times.”

Pelosi was set to host a dinner Nov. 13 for newly elected House Democrats but turned it into a takeout meal after backlash. Earlier that day, Pelosi had urged people to heed guidance on “isolation” and “separation,” according to The Washington Post. House Republicans were set to host a similar dinner but also turned theirs into a carry-out meal.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California has been accused of hypocrisy when it comes to coronavirus restrictions.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California has been accused of hypocrisy when it comes to coronavirus restrictions.

Reached for comment, Occupy Democrats Logic managing editor Will Ricciardella claimed there are “numerous” instances of politicians going against COVID-19 policies.

In an email to USA TODAY, he provided links to other examples, including a story about Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser traveling out of state to celebrate Biden’s victory and a news clip montage from the Washington Examiner, where Ricciardella also serves as social media director.

Expert: ‘There are no politics to this virus’

The data is clear: The novel coronavirus is highly transmissible, and social distancing and mask-wearing are effective practices for reducing the risk of transmission, according to Dr. David Hooper, chief of the Infection Control Unit at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Gatherings and public events pose a risk, he said. The larger the gathering, the higher the likelihood that someone there is contagious, and the greater the risk of others becoming infected, Hooper said.

When it comes to making pandemic management policies work, “everyone has to be in this together,” Hooper told USA TODAY. “We’ve got to do it together to make this work.”

It’s also crucial to have good role models.

“It’s extremely important that leadership set the right example, not only by what they say, but what they do,” Hooper said.

COVID-19 has further divided Republicans and Democrats, who remain split over how to manage the pandemic.

Political pandemic perspectives

Syracuse University political psychologist Shana Gadarian and her colleagues surveyed 3,000 Americans five times between March and October, finding that as cases rose, Republicans' positions on the pandemic remained fixed, USA TODAY reported. Overall, Republicans were also less likely to practice social distancing or wear masks.

In early October, USA TODAY reported that President Donald Trump and key Oval Office figures had violated Centers for Disease Control and Prevention COVID-19 guidance at least 27 times in the month before. Among the guidance they ignored were recommendations on mask-wearing, social distancing and quarantining.

Pandemic management policies and guidance are important not only for protecting at-risk people and avoiding further strain on the health care system but also for ensuring that further restrictions and shutdowns aren’t necessary, Hooper said.

Left to its own devices, the virus will continue to wreak havoc indiscriminately, he said.

“There are no politics to this virus,” Hooper said.

Our rating: Missing context

Based on our research, we rate this claim as MISSING CONTEXT. It’s true that some politicians have acted contrary to the social distancing and stay-at-home practices they are preaching, though Pelosi did not end up hosting a “giant reception,” as Wheeler’s tweet claimed. Ultimately, however, it’s not just some Democratic politicians flouting COVID-19 policies and guidance – such behavior has been seen on both sides of the aisle, including behavior resulting in a coronavirus outbreak at the White House.

Our fact check sources:

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fact check: Politicians on both sides have flouted COVID-19 guidelines