Crime and the Coronavirus: What You Need to Know

Climbing cases, masks, and going back to school in a pandemic

We’re currently in the 21st week of pandemic restrictions in the US—and cases keep climbing.

On August 2, the country saw its lowest daily total (49,216) of new cases in weeks. But with more than 150,000 American lives lost and a positive infection count approaching five million, Americans remain as divided as ever about shutdown orders and mask mandates.

As COVID-19 continues its rampage across the nation, crimes related to masks and controversy over school openings are also on the rise.

With a new school year just weeks away, we decided to dig into two hot-button coronavirus and crime issues—crimes involving masks and  back-to-school safety concerns.

Mask madness: Crime news related to face coverings

Even though 33 states now require face coverings in public settings where social distancing isn’t possible, masks are still causing an uproar from coast to coast.

  • Law enforcement agencies in multiple states (including Wisconsin, Arkansas, Indiana, and Kentucky) refuse to enforce mask mandates or respond to calls about face coverings. Some, like the police chief in Marshall, Arkansas, don’t even require officers to wear masks.

  • Georgia’s governor doubled-down on his ban that prohibits city or county government from issuing mask requirements. He extended his order in the midst of a lawsuit with Savannah’s mayor who issued an order in spite of the ban.

  • New Jersey is considering a bill that would make it a crime if you fail to wear a mask where requirements are posted.

  • A Slatington, Pennsylvania man had a shootout with seven police officers after refusing to wear a mask in a cigar store.

  • In mid-July, an unmasked customer pulled a gun on a mask-wearing shopper in a Royal Palm Beach, Florida Walmart—there were no injuries.

  • fight over a mask at an Albuquerque auto shop resulted in one fatality. (Albuquerque ranked as the second “most dangerous” metro area in our latest report.)

  • Partiers in Nashville continue to defy city mask orders, leading top health officials to hit the streets to provide masks to revelers.

Classroom controversy: COVID-19 concerns spur confrontations

In the face of rising infection numbers, parents, educators, and government officials are at odds about how to go back to school safely.

Students and teachers are already testing positive

  • Schools across Indiana are closing up and suspending sports and other activities after students and staff test positive for COVID-19. Schools resumed in the Hoosier state on July 30.

  • A junior high schooler in Indiana tested positive for the novel coronavirus on the first day of school. The student and anyone they came in contact with were told not to return to school for at least 14 days.

  • That same Indiana school shut its doors on the third day of school after at least one staff member also tested positive.

  • A Mississippi high school student tested positive for COVID-19 during the first week of in-person classes. The student and anyone who had contact with them were asked to quarantine for 14 days.

  • The largest school district in Georgia has over 250 employees that either tested positive for COVID-19 or are in quarantine due to exposure. One teacher resigned over concerns after the district said teachers can’t work from home. Others reported lax sanitation efforts at district-wide training and planning meetings.

Unions and school boards struggle with school safety during the pandemic

  • National teacher’s unions are pushing members to strike if schools plan to reopen without proper health and safety measures in place.

  • The Massachusetts Teachers Association is pushing to start the school year remotely until the state meets public health benchmarks in regard to COVID-19 cases.

  • A Kansas Board of Education election is heating up as the board votes on the governor’s plan to postpone the start of the school year. A write-in candidate popped up to challenge an incumbent board member who voted against the delay.

  • New Jersey announced a mask requirement for all students who return to classes in September. The governor made the decision in response to climbing infection rates in the Garden state.

  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill faces pushback from faculty over plans to open fully next week.

  • New York’s governor says if coronavirus infection rates remain at the current 1% level, schools will hold in-person classes this fall.

  • Maryland’s governor issued an emergency order to counter Montgomery County’s directive that private schools start the year online only.

  • The president reversed course last week, encouraging schools in coronavirus hot spots to delay opening. But there was a caveat—no full federal funding until classes are 100% back in session on campus.

Coronavirus, crime, and continued gun violence

This is turning into the summer of our ever-increasing discontent. Protesters nabbed into unmarked vans, widespread gun violence, and climbing coronavirus numbers are competing for headlines on a daily basis. 

And that’s not even touching on the great mask debate. 

It’s a weird and alarming time—and crime is continuing to evolve right along with coronavirus restrictions and recommendations. 

Here’s a roundup of how crime is flourishing (or not) across the country right along with the novel coronavirus. 

Overall crime trends

Crime overall has declined during the pandemic, but gun violence has seen a steady rise. 

  • A University of Pennsylvania professor who is tracking reported crimes during the COVID-19 outbreak found that reported crimes dropped an average of 23% across the 25 cities he’s monitoring.

  • Drug crimes saw the most dramatic drop—more than 63% compared to the past five years. Property crime dropped 19%, while violent crime dipped 15%. 

  • Other researchers found an overall drop in crime in many major US cities. The Bay Area had a decrease in reported crimes of around 50% at the onset of stay-at-home orders.

  • In Los Angeles, city-wide burglaries dropped 10% while retail theft jumped 67%.

  • Gun violence wreaked havoc in the Big Apple for the third straight weekend, with 22 incidents that left 24 victims. On Saturday alone, there were 10 people shot and one killed.

  • Shootings in NYC have increased by 66.8% year over year through July 17. The number of shooting victims has jumped 77.5%.

  • At least 160 people were killed and more than 500 were wounded by gun violence over the Fourth of July weekend.

  • As of July 20, there have been a total of 310 mass shootings across the nation. That’s a 34% increase compared to the same time period last year, and 74% of 2019’s total of 417 mass shootings.

  • There have also been more than 22,000 deaths by gun violence and over 19,000 injuries nationwide. 

  • Some research suggests a link between pandemic-led surges in gun sales and the country’s ongoing rash of shooting incidents. Between March and May, there were 64% more guns sold in the US—that’s over 2 million more guns than were sold during the same months in previous years.

Today’s biggest threats (that aren’t the virus)

Shootings continue to be a scourge across the nation as states open up and people finally come out of their homes. Chicago’s Memorial Day weekend was its deadliest in five years.

Property crime continues to be down in most places—especially acts against private residences. But the initial dip in violent crime has normalized across much of the country, particularly in cities already wracked by gun violence and drugs continue to see those crimes proliferate, pandemic or no. 

But some new criminal activities are rearing their heads. Here are crimes that seem to be growing as we settle into the third month of social distancing.

  • Civil disobedience in the face of state and city restrictions

  • Package theft

  • Speeding

  • Surges in the opioid epidemic

  • Assault on medical workers and law enforcement (usually through coughing, spitting, or sneezing)

Crimes that continue to be problematic during the pandemic

  • Burglary of commercial businesses left vacant

  • Domestic and family violence

  • Hate crimes (especially against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders)

  • Vehicle theft

  • Financial scams

  • Price gouging

Some ways you can help

Hate crimes

Domestic violence

If you or someone you know is the victim of domestic abuse, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline online or at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). Calls are free, confidential, and offer support in more than 200 languages.