There’s no question the mass protests across the United States will spread the novel coronavirus, according to experts.
This is because the virus is transmitted via respiratory droplets that you emit when you talk, yell, sneeze, and cough. The more people you come into contact with, the more likely one of them has COVID-19—and could pass it onto you, explains K.C. Rondello, M.D., Clinical Associate Professor of Public Health & Emergency Management at Adelphi University.
“Purely from a public health perspective there’s no doubt that the assemblages in these protests pose a greater risk. We may see a reversal of the downward trend [of new COVID-19 cases], or at least a slowing in the downward trend, in response to more lax public health protections,” he says.
Public health officials in several cities, including Philadelphia and Minneapolis, are asking protestors to watch for symptoms and get tested for COVID-19.
Your risk of getting COVID-19 from a protest is fairly high as you’ll come into contact with hundreds or thousands of people, says Rondello. He compares attending a protest to going to a crowded, outdoor concert.
And there are several complicating factors as to why. One: getting tear gas in your eyes make it more likely that you’ll touch your face and potentially get sick, says John Swartzberg, M.D. a clinical professor emeritus in infectious diseases and vaccinology at the University of California at Berkeley School of Public Health.
“People start wiping their eyes, and if their hands are contaminated they could infect themselves through their eyes,” Swartzberg told LiveScience.
People who are immunocompromised or live with older adults may want to look at other ways of advocacy, suggests Rondello. You can write to your senator, donate to organizations like American Civil Liberties Union and Campaign Zero, or gather supplies for other protestors. If you live alone and are working from home, then you might decide it’s worth getting sick.
All protestors should wear a mask and carry hand sanitizer, says Rondello.
“As long as you’re not naive to the risk, and you’re well informed, you can make the choice that’s right for you,” he says.
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