Coronavirus: Protests could cause catastrophic setback for pandemic, experts warn

Louise Hall
AP

Large gatherings held across the US in protest of the death of George Floyd could be a massive setback for attempts to control the novel coronavirus across the country, experts warn.

“It makes me cringe on a number of levels,” Dr 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,” she added. “It’s heartbreaking.”

National unrest has seen protests and rioting break out across a number of states as large groups of people protest the death of Floyd, an unarmed black man who died in police custody after a Minneapolis police officer pinned him to the ground by his neck for a prolonged period of time.

Outrage over Floyd’s death has spiralled in the last week and many protests have seen large gatherings of hundreds and even thousands of people crowded together.

A number of US states are still advising against large gatherings or events to help stem the spread of the virus across the country.

Covid-19, the respiratory disease that has led to the deaths of more than 100,000 people across the US, is thought to be mainly spread through close contact, sneezing, coughing and shouting.

“If you were out protesting last night, you probably need to go get a Covid test this week,” Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said on Sunday.

“Because there’s still a pandemic in America that’s killing black and brown people at higher numbers,” she added in the news briefing, according to NBC News.

Data has emerged throughout the pandemic showing that African Americans are being disproportionately affected by the virus, both in terms of infections and deaths.

“The roots of health disparity based in racial and socio-economic status are long and deep-seeded, ranging from pre-existing health conditions to access to health care,” Dr Ben Singer, assistant professor of medicine in pulmonary and critical care at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, told NBC News.

“A lot of this is being amplified because we’re in the middle of a pandemic,” Dr Singer added.

While many people at demonstrations have been seen to be wearing face coverings, keeping a safe social distance from others of at least two meters is near impossible in many of the protests.

“Masks aren’t perfect, but a layer of protection is better than not having anything,” Dr Passaretti said.

The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene has advised that anyone planning to protest amidst the virus should wear a face covering, use hand sanitiser and try to keep within a small group at least six metres away from others when possible, among other measures.

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