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  • Society of Bioethics and Medicine

PROTESTS AMIDST A PANDEMIC

Updated: Sep 21, 2020

By- Pooja Suganthan, Edited by - Nadia Addasi July 7, 2020

Over 75 cities across The United States are involved in protests over police violence against Black Americans. These protests include tens of thousands of people coming together in solidarity to fight for George Floyd and other Black Americans who have lost their lives at the hands of police. Several states have enacted curfews in at least 39 cities and the National Guard has been called to at least 15 states. Despite the efforts to control the spread of the coronavirus which took the world by storm just a few months prior, the momentum of the movement is strong and the people are demanding change. 

However, these protests and gatherings concern public health officials. These gatherings can be unsafe due to the large numbers and close proximity of protestors.  “There’s no question that, when you put hundreds or thousands of people together in close proximity when we have got this virus all over the streets, it’s not healthy,” said Maryland Governor Larry Hogan. In addition to coughing and sneezing, the yelling, singing, and chanting expected at protests also produce droplets, a major way the coronavirus spreads.  

Primary public health measures for combating the coronavirus have been social distancing and wearing facemasks. These preventative tools help reduce exposure to the virus and slow its spread. Many states have been working on reopening specific counties through a phased approach, but this sudden upsurge in civic engagement may impact the states’ reopening plans.  

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms worries that the protests will increase infections among people of color. Communities of color have been disproportionately affected by coronavirus throughout the pandemic. New York City Health reports show that approximately twice as many Black and African Americans have died due to the virus compared to white Americans. 

In an interview with Time magazine, August Nimtz Jr., a participant in the Minneapolis protests, shared, “I’m a 77-year-old African-American male. I’ve gotta be concerned [about catching COVID-19], but at the same time, there’s the importance of coming out into the streets. We had to do this. If we don’t do it the cops will get away with it again.” 


How can protestors and activists continue the power of this movement while preventing the spread of the pandemic? Bottoms and other officials recommend that participants maintain preventative measures while protesting. Bottoms advised, “If you were out protesting last night, you probably need to go get a COVID test this week. There is still a pandemic in America that’s killing black and brown people at higher numbers.” 

Dr. Theodore Long, the leader of New York City’s contact tracing efforts, stated, “We strongly encourage anybody who is out in the protests to wear a mask, practice proper hand hygiene and to the extent possible, socially distance, though we know that’s not always going to be feasible.”  

Health officials and departments are sharing methods of taking precautions against the pandemic while participating in protests.  On Twitter, Boston University epidemiologist Eleanor Murray offered the following tips to reduce harm during protests: wear a mask; wear heat resistant gloves; wear eye protection; choose to protest with signs, drums, and similar noisemakers to prevent spread through droplets; stick with a buddy group and carry water, hand sanitizer, and bandages. Although these precautions may not eliminate the spread of the virus, they can help mitigate it. It is still emphatically recommended that individuals who feel ill or have fever-like symptoms remain home (Barclay, 2020). 



Reference(s)

Coronavirus Live Updates: U.S. Protests Set Off Fears of New Outbreaks. (2020, May 31). Retrieved June 01, 2020, from https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/31/world/coronavirus-news.html

Stieb, M., Raymond, A. K., & Danner, C. (2020, June 01). Police Spar With Protesters for 6th Straight Night: Live Updates. Retrieved June 01, 2020, from https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2020/06/george-floyd-nationwide-protests-minneapolis-updates.html

Klar, R. (2020, May 31). Hogan concerned about coronavirus spike after protests. Retrieved June 01, 2020, from https://thehill.com/homenews/state-watch/500343-hogan-concerned-about-coronavirus-spike-after-protests

Yuko, E. (2020, May 31). How Dangerous Is It to Protest During a Pandemic? Retrieved June 01, 2020, from https://www.rollingstone.com/culture/culture-features/george-floyd-protest-covid-19-pandemic-safety-1008067/

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020, May 06). Social Distancing, Quarantine, and Isolation. Retrieved June 01, 2020, from https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/social-distancing.html

NYC Health. (2020, April 06). Age-adjusted rate of fatal lab-confirmed COVID-19 cases per 100,000 by race/ethnicity group. Retrieved from https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/doh/downloads/pdf/imm/covid-19-deaths-race-ethnicity-04082020-1.pdf

Gearty, R. (2020, May 31). Atlanta mayor urges George Floyd protesters to get tested for coronavirus. Retrieved June 01, 2020, from https://www.foxnews.com/us/atlanta-mayor-urges-george-floyd-protesters-to-get-tested-for-coronavirus

Barclay, E. (2020, May 31). How to more safely protest in a pandemic. Retrieved June 01, 2020, from https://www.vox.com/2020/5/31/21276082/covid-19-protests-george-floyd-minnesota-los-angeles-coronavirus-risk-safety



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