Story at a glance
- Public health and government officials are concerned of a second wave of coronavirus infections following George Floyd protests.
- Demonstrators protested in close contact, making social distancing difficult.
- The virus transmits through respiratory droplets.
Protests gripped the nations over the weekend in response to the death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man in Minnesota who died as a result of an arrest by police officers. The coronavirus pandemic took a backseat as civil rights advocates across the nation organized to demonstrate against police brutality.
The crowds, who were shouting and chanting in close proximity, had little room to practice the social distancing that curbs the spread of COVID-19.
While some demonstrators donned masks as protective gear, infectious disease experts are concerned that the country could see another spike in cases in the coming weeks.
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"It makes me cringe on a number of levels," Katie Passaretti, medical director for infection prevention at Atrium Health in Charlotte, North Carolina, told NBC News.
"It's a setup for further spread of COVID," Passaretti said to reporters. "It's heartbreaking."
The virus, which spreads through aerosol particle transmission, is highly contagious and has infected over 1.7 million people in the U.S. alone, per data from Johns Hopkins CSSE.
City officials, such as Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, warned of the dangers of transmission after protesting in close proximity.
"If you were out protesting last night, you probably need to go get a COVID test this week," Bottoms said at a press conference on Sunday per NBC reporting. "Because there's still a pandemic in America that's killing black and brown people at higher numbers."
Similarly, the former chief of the Food and Drug Administration Scott Gottlieb told reporters that the U.S. isn’t fully recovered from the coronavirus pandemic, and that more cases will likely emerge from these protests in the coming weeks.
"Chains of transmission will have become lit from these gatherings,“ Gottlieb said on CBS News' "Face the Nation” program.
Gottlieb also noted that hospitalizations were already rising in Minnesota before the mass protests.
"Minnesota, one of the hard hit states by the protests where you've seen large mass gatherings, that state has been seeing an uptick in cases to begin with. Even before these protests started, we saw rising hospitalizations in that state,” CNN quoted Gottlieb.
In addition to the threat of a jump in coronavirus cases, experts worry that the black community, which the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found to be particularly vulnerable to severe coronavirus infections, will bear the brunt of new cases.
"I think this week, more than any week, it is so important to call attention to the racial disparities that many of us in the public health community have been talking about for months," said Megan Ranney, an emergency room physician and researcher at Brown University to CNN. "We know that blacks are two to four times more likely to die from Covid-19 compared to whites.”
Other minority populations, including Native Americans and Hispanics, are also disproportionately at risk for a fatal coronavirus infection.
"It's so tied up with our country's history of structural racism, historical injustices, as well as ongoing problems," Ranney stated.
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