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Officials concerned that crowded protests may spark a surge in Covid infections

US health officials are concerned that the angry protests which have gripped the entire nation against the injustices by law enforcement agencies and police crackdown may lead to a surge in the rate of coronavirus infections.

ANI | New York | Updated: 02-06-2020 11:14 IST | Created: 02-06-2020 09:54 IST
Officials concerned that crowded protests may spark a surge in Covid infections
Representative image. Image Credit: ANI

US health officials are concerned that the angry protests which have gripped the entire nation against the injustices by law enforcement agencies and police crackdown may lead to a surge in the rate of coronavirus infections. Thousands of protesters trooping into the streets across various US cities this weekend amid tightly packed crowds and casting aside social distancing to express their rage and grief over the death of a black man, George Floyd, in the custody of Minneapolis police on Memorial Day, forced the nation on Sunday to record 1.7 million coronavirus infections and 103,000 COVID -19 deaths -- a disproportionate number of them black and brown people, as reported by The Washington Post.

Demonstrators roared their anger into the faces of police lined up just a few feet away outside Brooklyn's Barclays Center, while ungloved demonstrators held hands as they marched in Minneapolis and Las Vegas. In nearly two dozen US cities, the police grappled physically with more than 2,500 people arrested during often-violent protests over Floyd's death. Officials are clearly worried about the possible impact of the protests on the health crisis as the rules of the covid-19 pandemic have been discarded on the streets in recent days. Protesters find it impossible to stay six feet apart, to avoid hand-to-hand contact or to dodge the respiratory droplets of their shouting, chanting comrades amid the swirling chaos. And because the virus can be spread by people with no symptoms, it can be impossible to figure out whom to avoid.

Washington mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) expressed concerns over the renewed outbreaks caused by large demonstrations in the nation's capital. And Atlanta mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms has urged her city's demonstrators to seek tests for the virus as soon as possible. "If you were out protesting last night, you probably need to go get a COVID test this week," Bottoms said at a news conference on Saturday.

"There is still a pandemic in America that's killing black and brown people at higher numbers," she added Quoting experts, the Post reported that it remains to be seen whether the protests will produce a surge in infections. Given the behavior on the street, they said, there is cause for concern.

"Crowded protests, like any large gathering of people in a close space, can help facilitate the spread of Covid-19, which is why it's so important participants wear masks, eye protection and bring hand-gel," Saskia Popescu, an infectious-disease epidemiologist at George Mason University's Schar School of Policy and Government, said in an email interview to the newspaper. "Shouting and screaming, as some studies have shown with singing, can project droplets farther, which makes the use of masks . . . and eye protection . . . that much more important," she added further.

Mask-wearing by infected people would cut down on the spread of respiratory droplets, offering some protection to people nearby. Unless they are rated N95 or better, however, masks offer only limited protection against the microscopic virus for the people wearing them. On the streets in recent days, many protesters, police, and reporters appeared to be wearing masks, though some did not. Some police officers also wore plastic face shields.

"Outdoor contact is far, far less risky than indoor contact," said Tom Frieden, former head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "When outdoors within 6 feet, a mask will further reduce risk," he noted.


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