More than 1,200 public health experts gave the green light to protesters to flout social distancing regulations and other anti-coronavirus measures in a letter Wednesday despite apparent evidence that COVID-19 spreads easily in large groups.
In an open letter, the public health officials declared COVID-19 a pandemic but said that protesting the issues of “white supremacy” and police brutality was important enough to risk becoming ill with the virus.
“White supremacy is a lethal public health issue that predates and contributes to COVID-19,” the group, led by infectious disease experts from the University of Washington wrote, per National Public Radio.
The same group condemned anti-lockdown protests just weeks ago but claims these new demonstrations are vastly different and require a different response.
“A public health response to these demonstrations is also warranted, but this message must be wholly different from the response to white protesters resisting stay-home orders. Infectious disease and public health narratives adjacent to demonstrations against racism must be consciously anti-racist, and infectious disease experts must be clear and consistent in prioritizing an anti-racist message,” the group says.
“Staying at home, social distancing, and public masking are effective at minimizing the spread of COVID-19,” the group continues. “To the extent possible, we support the application of these public health best practices during demonstrations that call attention to the pervasive lethal force of white supremacy. However, as public health advocates, we do not condemn these gatherings as risky for COVID-19 transmission.”
There is no doubt, though, that large gatherings put attendees at risk for coronavirus, at least according to public health officials who spoke out against large gatherings in March, April, and May, and demanded strict lockdown to slow and prevent the spread of coronavirus.
Just a few short weeks ago, many city officials and health care workers were cautioning against any public outings, shutting down retail stores, businesses, and restaurants to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, which has so far killed more than 100,000 Americans. This week, though, many of those same officials were cheering the anti-racism marches, even when it was clear marchers were not observing social distancing.
Many city officials have tried to walk a fine line between encouraging anti-coronavirus measures and supporting protests. The New York City Department of Public Health issued warnings last week for demonstrators, urging them to use noisemakers rather than sing or chant, and suggesting that all protesters at least wear face masks.
Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser, who has ordered that public gatherings be kept to ten people or fewer, lauded protesters for standing up against racism but encouraged those who took to the streets to keep an eye on their symptoms and get tested for COVID-19 if necessary.
“I’m so concerned about it that I’m urging everybody to consider their exposure if they need to isolate from their family members when they go home and if they need to be tested because we have worked very hard to blunt the curve,” she said on “Meet the Press” on Sunday.
In some cases, even hospital workers, who were physically blocking anti-lockdown protests in May, came out to cheer on the anti-police brutality demonstrations.
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