While our collective anger, grief, and desire for police reform cannot and should not be undermined, mass gatherings could result in a spike in Covid-19 cases.
Protestors around the country recognize that they’re at more risk from the pandemic out in the streets than they would be at home, but they say that police brutality is more important to fight against. “Protests are life-saving for black people in this country,” said Dr. Rhea Boyd, pediatrician and masters of public health in minority health policy. “Even though being in the streets increases your risk,” of COVID-19 infection, “we all know that risk exists anyway.”
Most of the spread of disease happened because the government was slow to act against COVID-19 — through lags in testing, reluctance to take action, and misinformation. Any potential new cases from these protests will be a drop in the bucket compared to the more than 100,000 deaths from COVID-19, which are attributable, at least in part, to the failure of the government to respond to this pandemic.
Several factors could contribute to the spread, including lack of social distancing, limitations of masks, and police tactics such as use of teargas and arrests. Teargas and pepper sprays are a public health nightmare because both cause incessant coughing. Oil-based pepper sprays cause tears, mucus, and saliva to pour from the eyes, nose, and mouth.
Protesters or police shouting at the top of their lungs could spread viral droplets for which masks are a weak barrier. Holding hands could also spread the disease. Corralling protesters together makes social distancing impossible. And thousands of people circulating together make contact tracing almost impossible.
If protests were carried out peacefully, they wouldn’t have been as dangerous. Protest organizers encourage people to wear masks, while gathering in the open air lets any exhaled viral particles disperse more easily. An outdoor gathering is less risky than eating at an indoor restaurant or going to a crowded bar.
Protests become higher-risk environments, though, when police use pepper spray or tear gas (which makes people cough, spreading more respiratory particles), force people into close quarters, and tear off their masks. COVID-19 could spread quickly among protesters as they’re loaded onto crowded buses or taken to jails, which are centers for the spread of disease.
Here are some ways to reduce the risk of catching the coronavirus at a protest
- Try to maintain a 6-foot distance from your fellow protestors at all times. Use a buddy system and stay in smaller groups.
- If you are displaying symptoms of Covid-19, you should not be joining a protest.
- Please consider the safety and well-being of the vulnerable people in your life. Distance yourself from them if you feel you may have been infected.
- Wear a mask (and bring several extras). Replace your mask if it becomes damp or if it is covered in tear gas. Unhook it from your ears, don’t pull it down from your mouth.
- Yelling can spread the virus. Signs and placards, as well as drums and other noise makers can be used.
- Consider self-quarantining after protesting.
- Carry hand sanitizer and use it often.
- Avoid touching your face.