Story at a glance

  • Redfield told the House Appropriations Committee he’s concerned the protests across the nation, especially in metropolitan areas, could become a seeding event for the coronavirus.
  • He was pressed by a lawmaker on how crowd-control chemicals used by law enforcement such as pepper spray could make the outbreak worse.
  • He said he’s concerned the CDC’s guidance on masks and social distancing isn’t resonating with the public.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) director Robert Redfield Thursday told a House panel protestors demonstrating against racial injustice following the death of George Floyd should highly consider getting tested for COVID-19, and suggested law enforcement’s use of crowd-control chemicals could make the outbreak worse. 

Redfield told the House Appropriations Committee he’s concerned the protests across the nation, especially in metropolitan areas, could become a seeding event for the coronavirus. 


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“The first thing that I would like to see is those individuals who have partaken in these peaceful protests or been out protesting, particularly if they are in metropolitan areas that really haven’t controlled the outbreak to the extent we want — Minneapolis happens to be one that is still having significant transmission, DC is another one — we really want those individuals to highly consider being evaluated and get tested,” Redfield said


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Days of protests have taken place since the death of Floyd, a black man whose neck was pinned to the ground by a now-former Minneapolis police officer, on May 25. Video of the incident showed the officer kneeling on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes as Floyd was being detained. 

While the overwhelming majority of the protests have been peaceful, there have been instances where law enforcement has used capsaicin-based compounds such as pepper spray and pepper balls among tightly packed crowds. Smoke canisters, tear gas and flash-bang grenades have also been used. 

Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), speaking during the panel, expressed concern about the use of chemical agents that could cause people to cough and spread the virus. 

“Definitely, coughing can spread respiratory viruses, including COVID-19,” Redfield said. 

Pocan asked whether the CDC head had advised President Trump or worked with law enforcement to halt the use of such chemicals on demonstrators. 

“I think you raised an important point,” Redfield said. “We have advocated strongly the ability to have face coverings and masks available to protestors so that they can at least have those coverings...I’d like to pass on this comment to the next [coronavirus] task force meeting, yes.” 

More broadly, Redfield expressed doubt that the public is taking guidance on masks and social distancing seriously.

“We’re very concerned that our public health message isn’t resonating,” Redfield said, responding to images of crowds at the recent SpaceX launch in Florida and partygoers packed into resort pools at the Lake of the Ozarks over the Memorial Day weekend. 

The United States continues to lead the world in the number of confirmed coronavirus cases. More than 1.8 million cases have been recorded with more than 108,000 deaths. 


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Published on Jun 05, 2020