Protesters rally at the White House against the death in Minneapolis police custody of George Floyd, in Washington, D.C., U.S. May 31, 2020. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst


Following a weekend mired with national protests sparked by George Floyd’s death in police custody last week, health experts and politicians called the events “super-spreaders” of the coronavirus and said a spike in cases was “inevitable.”  Many state and city officials, including Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, advised protesters to get tested. Lance Bottoms reminded Atlanta citizens, “There is still a pandemic in America that’s killing black and brown people at higher numbers.” Solidarity protests took place around the world this weekend, from Amsterdam to New Zealand.

While contact tracing is needed to help slow the spread of the disease, that feat could be nearly impossible given the high volume of people any protestor could have come in contact with. Experts fear the increased contact may have a higher toll on the black and Latino communities, which are already experiencing infections at higher rates by COVID-19 than their white counterparts. However, many protestors from those communities expressed the need “to protest for my life” despite the dangers associated with protesting en masse in the middle of a pandemic.

Exposure to tear gas and pepper spray seen in the more violent protests could lead to “susceptibility via different transmission routes,” according to Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at the Center for Infection and Immunity at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. The CDC lists symptoms of riot control agents that are similar to COVID-19 or that could lead to face-touching: coughing, difficulty breathing, tearing or burning of the eyes, and skin burns, to name a few.


The Protests Will Spread the Coronavirus – The Atlantic – 6/1/2020
The virus seems to spread the most when people yell (such as to chant a slogan), sneeze (to expel pepper spray), or cough (after inhaling tear gas). It is transmitted most efficiently in crowds and large gatherings, and research has found that just a few contagious people can infect hundreds of susceptible people around them. The virus can spread especially easily in small, cramped places, such as police vans and jails.

George Floyd protests could impact coronavirus containment measures, experts warn – Fox News – 6/1/2020
In recent days, people in at least 75 cities across the nation have demonstrated in response to Floyd’s death. But the lack of social distancing and uniform use of face masks at such events has put political leaders and public health experts on edge, warning that these large gatherings could lead to a “second wave” of the novel coronavirus especially as states have only recently begun to lift lockdown restrictions and report a decline in hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar reflects on George Floyd protests – The Los Angeles Times – 6/1/2020
What do you see when you see angry black protesters amassing outside police stations with raised fists? If you’re white, you may be thinking, “They certainly aren’t social distancing.” […] What you should see when you see black protesters in the age of Trump and coronavirus is people pushed to the edge, not because they want bars and nail salons open, but because they want to live. To breathe.


Niraj Warikoo on Twitter, 6/1/2020: Americans were eager to quickly forget about the coronavirus because it was confusing & strange to them. The last major pandemic was 100 years ago, before even older generations were around. In contrast, Floyd’s death & the protests are an old familiar story, one they understand.

Gregory McKelvey on Twitter, 5/31/2020: If we are in the middle of a pandemic that impacts the respiratory system and an ensuing budget shortfall we should not spend millions of dollars on tear gas that attacks our communities lungs. Again, common sense.

Atul Gawande on Twitter, 6/1/2020: Will the protests increase COVID19 spread? Yes – but outdoor gatherings with people mostly in masks and moving past one another are less the concern than people (police, protesters) in crowded, closed spaces (vehicles, jails), esp without masks.

Stuart D. Meissner @on Twitter, 5/31/2020: Petri dish protests. Where are the nightly social distancing gurus’ voices ⁦@ChrisCuomo⁩ ⁦@donlemon⁩ now? Suddenly no virus & and these protestors arn’t selfish placing healthcare workers at risk -all good to gather in thousands marching now. 🙄

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