Medical

Concerns for coronavirus spreading rapidly during protests shared by government leaders, health experts

Healthcare workers place a nasal swab from a patient into a tube for testing at the Brightpoint Health and UJA-Federation of New York free pop-up coronavirus (COVID-19) testing site on May 8, 2020 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. - The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on May 8, 2020 approved the first diagnostic test for coronavirus using saliva samples collected at home. (Photo by Angela Weiss / AFP) (Photo by ANGELA WEISS/AFP via Getty Images)

(CNN) — Government leaders and health officials have expressed their concern that coronavirus could rapidly spread during protests over the death of George Floyd.

Floyd died after since-fired Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on his neck for over eight minutes. Chauvin was charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.

People across the country have taken to the streets to vent their frustrations over the seeming lack of value for the lives of black men. It was the same week the nation crossed the 100,000 death count from coronavirus.

Sunday alone saw an increase of almost 20,000 cases, according to the CNN count compiled with data from John’s Hopkins.

As of Monday morning at least 1,790,191 Americans have contracted the virus and 104,383 have died. But some expect a jump in cases following days of demonstrations.

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With large groups of people out in hoards close together during the protests, Minnesota Governor Walz said he expects a sharp increase in cases of Covid-19 in his state

“I am deeply concerned about a super-spreader type of incident,” Walz said. “We’re going to see a spike in Covid-19. It’s inevitable.”

Officials in New York shared the governor’s worry about a potential for rise in coronavirus among protesters.

“I would still wish that everyone would realize that when people gather it’s inherently dangerous in the context of this pandemic, and I’m going to keep urging people not to use that approach and if they do they focus on social distancing and wearing face coverings,” New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said Saturday.

The mayor said he recognized the need to demonstrate following the death of Floyd but “It’s a very, very complicated reality.”

“You cannot see overt racism, you cannot see overt racist murder and not feel something profoundly deep, so I understand that,” de Blasio added. “But the last thing we would want to see is members of our community harmed because the virus spread in one of these settings.”

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said that while people have the right to protest, even during a pandemic, they also have a duty to protect the health of themselves and others.

“You have a right to demonstrate you have a right to protest, God Bless America,” Cuomo said at a Saturday press conference. “You don’t have a right to infect other people, you don’t have a right to act in a way that’s going to jeopardize public health.”

“Demonstrate with a mask on,” he said nodding to its effectiveness. “You’re wrong not to wear a mask, I think you’re disrespectful, I think you’re putting other people’s lives at risk needlessly.”

Cuomo also noted how the coronavirus has brought long standing health disparities for the African American community to light once again.

“The coronavirus crisis has created a depth of pain that still has not been accounted for. So many New Yorkers have lost someone but that is particularly true in communities of color and particularly true in the African American community,” Cuomo said. “That loss is being felt so deeply because every knows it’s not based on equality … communities of color lost so much more.”

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms also said she’s worried about the impact the virus is having on the community during the protests. She told CNN she’s been so busy with ongoing unrest in her city that she neglected to look at infection data for days.

“Last night I realized I hadn’t looked at our coronavirus numbers in two days,” Lance Bottoms told CNN’s Jake Tapper during State of the Union. “That’s frightening because it’s a pandemic and people of color are getting hit harder.”

“I am extremely concerned when we’re seeing mass gatherings. We know what’s happening in our community with this virus,” the mayor explained.

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan shared a similar sentiment saying the priority has been to keep people safe during the demonstrations but the focus has to also include the months long fight against the spread of coronavirus.

Speaking to Jake Tapper on State of the Union, Hogan said he, too, is concerned about the coronavirus amidst the fallout from the death of Floyd.

“There’s no questions that when you put hundreds or thousands of people together in close proximity when we’ve got this virus all over the streets is not healthy,” Hogan said. “Two weeks from now across America we’re going to find out whether or not this gives us a spike and drives the numbers back up.”

“Most states had rules about no crowds of ten or more and now we’re seeing thousands of people jammed in together in close proximity,” Hogan added.

Health experts have also spoken out about the need for masks and other protective measures in light of racial disparities in the data showing minorities have an increased risk for catching the virus.

Dr. Scott Gottlieb, the former commissioner of the US Food and Drug Administration under President Donald Trump, said during CBS’ “Face the Nation” Sunday that these demonstrations will create further spread of Covid-19, especially in a state that was trending upward before this week’s events.

“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,” Gottlieb said. “And 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.”

Other doctors told CNN that the racial disparity in the way coronavirus spreads will only be compounded by the protests.

“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, John, have been talking about for months,” Dr. Megan Ranney, an emergency room physician and researcher at Brown University, told CNN’s John King. “We know that blacks are two to four times more likely to die from Covid-19 compared to whites. And of course, other communities, like Native Americans and Hispanics, are disproportionately affected, as well.

“It’s so tied up with our country’s history of structural racism, historical injustices, as well as ongoing problems,” Dr. Ranny noted.

Dr. Ashish Jha, the director of Harvard’s Global Health Institute, said on the same show that he wished demonstrators would wear masks to protect themselves and others.

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