Doctors, researchers, and other experts are all asking the same question: Will recent mass protests over police brutality and racism cause a spike in COVID-19 cases?
The answer isn’t entirely clear yet, but preliminary results indicate that the safety precautions used by many protesters may have prevented a worst case scenario.
Seattle Testing Shows Low Rate of Infection
On June 12, Seattle mayor Jenny Durkan reported the COVID-19 test results of 3,000 residents:
“Results are in from UW Medicine and out of 3,000 tests fewer than 1% were positive. To our knowledge and based on volunteered information, there is no evidence so far of people testing positive for COVID-19 from attending protests in Seattle,” the Mayor’s Office reported.
Six days before, on June 5, Mayor Durkan announced that the city’s new testing program would be expanded to include individuals who participated in demonstrations and protests throughout the past week.
“I have been hearing from community members who attended demonstrations over the past week about their concerns of COVID-19 exposure. While Public Health guidelines reserve testing for those who have symptoms, or who have been in close contact with someone with COVID-19 illness, I recognize that many have put themselves at risk of exposure to make their voices heard, and this expanded criteria will ensure they can get tested at City test sites,” said Mayor Durkan.”
Governor Cuomo of New York is also urging protestors to seek COVID-19 testing. “One person can infect hundreds,” he said at a news conference on Thursday. “If you were at a protest, go get a test please. The protesters have a civic duty here also.”
The CDC Says It’s Too Early to Tell
The CDC has been “closely monitoring” demonstrations nationwide, but also can’t yet determine whether protests will trigger a spike in new COVID-19 cases.
“Protests and large gatherings make it difficult to maintain our recommended social distancing guidelines and may put others at risk,” the CDC said in a statement. “It is too early to know what, if any, effect these events will have on the federal COVID-19 response. Every local situation is different.”
However, a briefing document prepared by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) noted that thirteen states, including California, Tennessee, Texas, South Carolina, Washington, and Virginia, had not maintained a daily decrease in coronavirus cases as the states continued efforts to reopen.
Some communities even show dramatic spikes with double or triple the number of cases over the past two weeks while nearby areas remain stable. Florida, for example, reported its highest number of new daily cases- 1,149- since March.
“If we are going to see a resurgence at the onset of summer, it will be in this time window,” said David Rubin, director of PolicyLab at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. “If we don’t see a bump, it may suggest that outdoor transmission is a relatively minor component of the epidemic during summer.”