Crowded Protests Spark Fears of an Increase in Coronavirus Cases
Protesters have said that supporting the fight for racial justice is worth the risk of contracting COVID-19
As thousands of Americans protested this weekend following the death of George Floyd while in police custody, health officials and political leaders have expressed concern that a spike in COVID-19 cases could follow in the coming weeks.
Most protesters have been wearing masks, but with close conditions as they marched through streets in Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and New York City, among other cities, social distancing was nearly impossible at a time when COVID-19 is still circulating in the U.S., with around 20,000 new cases a day.
In Atlanta, which has seen three straight days of protests, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said that she is worried about new infections, particularly among the black community which has been disproportionately affected by COVID-19.
“If you were out protesting last night, you probably need to go get a COVID test this week,” she said during a news briefing on Sunday. “There is still a pandemic in America that’s killing black and brown people at higher numbers.”
Dr. Scott Gottlieb, the former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, said Sunday that he is concerned about further spread, particularly in Minnesota, where COVID-19 cases had already been rising.
"There's going to be a lot of issues coming out of what's happened in the last week, but one of them is going to be that chains of transmission will have become lit from these gatherings," he said on Face the Nation, adding that the U.S. "isn't through this epidemic."
And Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said that the protests could be “super-spreader events” — gatherings where the virus quickly spreads with people in close contact — but that he understands the need to protest.
“It is not a reason to not protest — we want to find peaceful ways for people to do that,” he said.
Several protesters have spoken to media outlets about why protesting for racial justice is worth the risk of developing COVID-19.
“I cannot in good conscience let this moment pass me by,” said Hasani Sinclair, a 38-year-old high school history teacher, told the Los Angeles Times. He had been staying home, only going out in public with a mask and has been tested multiple times for COVID-19, but said that as a black man, he needed to speak out against police brutality that “has been a silent cause of death for years and years and years.”
Sućdi, a 24-year-old student in Minneapolis told The Cut that it was worth the risk.
“I’m terrified of the coronavirus. I’m diabetic, and my mom is very worried. But I tell her there’s no choice,” she said. “I went out because I do not want my future children to experience that rush of fear and panic when being pulled over by a traffic cop. I had to choose which virus poses the biggest threat to my family, friends, and me. And that’s the police.”
On Saturday, the New York City Health Department shared tips for protesting as safely as possible during COVID-19. They suggested wearing face masks, eye protection, using noisemakers instead of yelling and staying six feet away from other people.
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