Amid Ongoing Coronavirus Outbreak, National Protests Come With Risks

After months of conversation dominated by the coronavirus, the national dialogue in the United States shifted last week to systemic racism following the death of George Floyd — the latest in a string of unarmed black men killed by white law enforcement officers.

From coast to coast, Americans gathered in major cities this weekend to demand racial justice — with some demonstrations drawing thousands. Many protesters wore face masks, but most were unable to keep 6 feet distance in crowds with hundreds or thousands of people. Now, public health officials are warning that, in light of the fact that the pandemic is ongoing, these mass gatherings could result in an uptick in coronavirus cases.

“There’s going to be a lot of issues coming out of what’s happened in the last week, but one of them is going to be that chains of transmission will have become lit from these gatherings,” Dr. Scott Gottlieb said on CBS’ “Face This Nation” Sunday. “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.”

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In Chicago — where thousands marched in the city streets this weekend — Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwad said that any officials who attended protests should remain in self-quarantine for at least 14 days. Additionally, Arwad said protesters who experience COVID-19 symptoms should get tested.

“While we continue to make progress, I am concerned we may see ourselves take a step backward down the line against COVID-19,” Arwad said in a news conference Monday. “COVID-19 is caused by a virus, and that virus doesn’t care about what’s going on in the city.”

In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo too warned in a Monday press briefing that large groupings of protesters could “exacerbate the COVID-19 spread.” However, he added, “it’s a very tough balance,” noting that telling protesters to stay home could be construed as not taking their concerns seriously.

Although all 50 states began loosening restrictions in May, Americans are continuing to be infected by the novel coronavirus, which has sickened nearly 1.8 million in the U.S. and left nearly 105,000 dead. While some states have fully reopened, New York — one of the hot beds of the virus — has not. The city is expected to begin the first stage of the state’s phased reopening process on June 8.

Chicago, another COVID-19 hotspot, had planned to move to phase three of its reopening process on Wednesday. But now, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said in today’s news conference, the city is uncertain as to whether it will move forward with its plan. “I think it’s going to take some time for us to assess what the impact is going to be on those businesses all across the city that were preparing,” she said.

Across the country, some businesses that had looked forward to reopening in the coming weeks will now see their doors shut for longer because of the current unrest. For instance, The Mall of America in Bloomington, Minn., which had planned to reopen today, has decided to push back its opening as its community mourns.

Meanwhile, scores of retailers have also experienced break-ins this week, with windows smashed, facades spray-painted and merchandise looted — causing some shops that had only just reopened, in cities such as Atlanta and Miami, to once again close.

Floyd, a 46-year-old unarmed black man, was killed on May 25 in Minneapolis by white police officer Derek Chauvin. His death has reignited an ongoing national outcry against police brutality and systemic racism — prompting public protests from coast to coast.

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