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Health Officials Worry Massive Protests Could Cause New COVID-19 Spike

Protesters gather calling for justice for George Floyd on Tuesday, May 26, 2020, in Minneapolis. (Carlos Gonzalez/Star Tribune via AP)
Protesters gather calling for justice for George Floyd on Tuesday, May 26, 2020, in Minneapolis. (Carlos Gonzalez/Star Tribune via AP)

As massive crowds gather to protest and riot against the death of George Floyd during this time of the pandemic, many of the nationwide demonstrators are not following social distancing safety practices. 

Now public health officials fear the massive protests could bring a resurgence of the coronavirus.

With tens of thousands of protestors in dozens of cities, many without masks, standing side-by-side, and shouting, authorities say it all dramatically raises the risk of new outbreaks.

Peter Chin-Hong, an infectious-disease specialist at the University of California, San Francisco explained that the trifecta of national events has merely added to the overall anguish Americans are facing.  

"It is a triple whammy of protests, plus raging pandemic, plus economic instability," he said.

Leaders in New York worry that the large numbers of protestors that have gathered for nearly a week will result in an increase of positive COVID-19 cases.

"It's very hard to say to people when there's such pain, such anger - don't come out because of the pandemic," said New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.

"For those who have made either presence felt, made their voices heard, the safest thing from this point is to stay home, obviously," he added. "We don't want people in close proximity to each other."

The protests are the largest public gatherings in the US since the pandemic forced widespread shutdowns.

And experts say the possibility of transmitting the virus during these demonstrations is higher when protestors aren't wearing a mask.

"There's no doubt in my mind that these can become breeding grounds for this virus," said Dr. Michael Mina, an assistant professor of epidemiology at Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health."I would not be surprised to see in the next couple of weeks that we see increases that may be linked to protests."

To compound matters, the new cases would probably hurt African-American and Latino populations, which have already been hard-hit by the virus.

Data shows that African-American deaths nationwide from COVID-19 are nearly two times greater and in some states, the rate is three or more times higher. 

In 42 states and Washington, DC, Latinos represent the majority of confirmed cases. In eight states, it's more than four times greater. 

"There's a lot of variation across states in terms of how they report the data that makes comparing the data across states hard, as well as getting a full national picture," says Samantha Artiga, director of the Disparities Policy Project at Kaiser Family Foundation. 

Officials say anyone who attended the demonstrations should self-quarantine for 14 days.

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