WebMD News Brief

Mass Protests Could Cause COVID-19 Outbreaks


May 31, 2020 - As mass protests continued in large and small cities across the country, officials expressed concerns on Sunday news shows about a potential spike in coronavirus cases in coming days.

“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,” said Scott Gottlieb, former FDA commissioner, on the CBS News show “Face the Nation.”

In Minnesota, he noted, COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations increased in recent days — even before the protests started.

“We still have pockets of spread in communities that aren’t under good control,” he said.

The protests generally have started peacefully with some demonstrators following physical distancing rules. But they have evolved into sometimes violent gatherings of hundreds or thousands of people where standing six feet apart is impossible.

Chanting, singing and shouting may spread the virus through respiratory droplets. In addition, people who have the virus but don’t show symptoms may infect others without knowing it.

“If you were out protesting last night, you probably need to go get a COVID test this week,” Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said Saturday, according to The Associated Press.

Gottlieb and Bottoms also spoke Sunday about the disproportionate effect of the coronavirus on black and Hispanic people, who are contracting and dying from the virus at higher rates. Socioeconomic factors such as low incomes, limited health care access, underlying conditions and overcrowded housing play a role in the greater risk, Gottlieb said.

“It’s a symptom of broader racial inequities in our country that we need to work to resolve,” he said.

Protests against racial injustice, sparked by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis last week, could harm those communities experiencing the most severe outcomes of the coronavirus, Bottoms added.

“We know what’s already happening in our community with this virus. We’re going to see the other side of this in a couple of weeks,” Bottoms said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

The protests may affect the pandemic in other ways. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said the city’s coronavirus testing centers were closed on Saturday because of “safety worries across the city,” according to KTLA.

“We need to make sure, especially in communities that have less power, that we are able to make sure people don’t disproportionately die because of the color of their skin,” he said. “We can’t do that when the city breaks down.”

WebMD Health News Brief Reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD on June 01, 2020


CBS News, “Transcript: Scott Gottlieb discusses coronavirus on ‘Face the Nation,’ May 31, 2020.”

Associated Press, “Massive protests raise fears of new virus outbreaks.”

CNN, “State of the Union transcript, May 31, 2020.”

KTLA, “All COVID-19 testing centers in L.A. city closed Saturday due to ‘safety worries’ amid George Floyd protests.”

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