Recent protests against systemic racism and police brutality have presented a unique threat in the battle against the coronavirus.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, spoke out on June 12 about his concerns: “You know, it’s a danger to the people who are trying to control the demonstration. And it’s a danger to the people who are demonstrating. So at the end of the day, it’s a risky procedure.”
In cities around the country- and even around the world- protestors have used a variety of safety precautions and techniques to minimize the transmission of COVID-19.
Experts are urging all protestors to get tested for the coronavirus, ideally five to seven days after protesting, since that’s the median incubation period for the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Many cities, including Seattle, Minneapolis, and Boston, are making testing as accessible as possible by offering free tests for protesters.
Celebrities and philanthropists have even joined this mission. Actor Sean Penn’s non-profit organization, CORE, for example, is offering free COVID-19 testing at protest sites. CORE set up testing in Washington D.C. in mid-June and plans to stay for weeks.
“Protesting is our civic duty, and we feel that testing ourselves is as well,” Ann Lee, CORE’s CEO said, “We want to support our awesome amazing protesters out there really saving our republic, and we feel that this is our best way to do that.”
Wear Masks At All Times
Crowds of people, standing inches apart without masks, is a recipe for uncontrollable COVID-19 transmission. Social distancing is nearly impossible in a protest environment, which makes the use of masks all the more important.
Chanting, shouting, and other common protesting actions produce more respiratory secretions than talking during a quiet conversation. These respiratory secretions effortlessly spread from one person to the next unless a mask is present to stop transmission.
“When you start to chant and shout, even though the instinct is to pull the mask down, which you see, don’t do that because there is a risk there and it’s a real risk,” Dr. Fauci emphasized to protesters.
Protesters are also urged to use signs and noise makers instead of yelling.
Stay in Small Groups When Possible
The images of nationwide protests throughout the end of May and June depict enormous, cramped crowds that make social distancing too difficult to enforce. However, experts still encourage protesters to travel with a small group of people and remain six feet away from other small groups.
As Krys Johnson, an epidemiologist at Temple University explained in an email to Live Science, “Stay with that buddy group to reduce your contacts and to ensure some social distancing between you and other people (people tend to give groups a wider berth than they do for individual people).”
Though there’s no way to eliminate the risk of COVID-19 from a protest setting completely, small steps can limit the amount of transmission and infection that occurs.