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Protesters Warned to Get Tested for COVID-19

Thousands of people worldwide gathered again over the weekend to protest police brutality and the recent deaths of black Americans such as George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery. Protests were largely peaceful demonstrations, held in cities, towns, and rural areas across the United States and internationally. However, the nature of the protests—large gatherings of people in close proximity, often shouting or chanting, sometimes without face coverings—has sparked health officials’ concern over the spread of COVID-19.

A few weeks ago, gatherings of a few dozen people seemed especially risky due to the rapid spread of the novel coronavirus. In Washington, D.C., this weekend, more than 100,000 protesters joined together in the largest assembled crowd in the capital since the 2017 Women’s March.

Robert Redfield, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), told the U.S. House Appropriations Committee last week that he fears the nationwide protests will become a “seeding event” for COVID-19, noting high pre-protest transmission rates in some cities where demonstrations are taking place, The Hill reports.

Redfield urged demonstrators to get evaluated and tested for COVID-19, and to keep wearing face masks and social distancing where possible.

In addition, Redfield said that some police crowd-control chemicals—such as pepper spray—could make protesters cough and potentially spread respiratory illnesses such as COVID-19.

California Governor Gavin Newson said that the state should prepare for higher rates of positive COVID-19 tests because of the protests and business reopenings. “If you’re not (concerned), you’re not paying attention to the epidemiology, to the virulence of this disease,” he said, according to CBS San Francisco.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo also encouraged protesters to get tested. On Sunday, Cuomo announced that the state planned on opening 15 additional COVID-19 testing sites dedicated just to protesters so they can get results quickly. “I would act as if you were exposed, and I would tell people you are interacting with, ‘assume I am positive for the virus,’” he said.

Other countries and regions have barred large-scale protests over coronavirus concerns, although adherence to these bans is mixed. French police banned a number of solidarity protests against racism and police brutality in Paris on Saturday over coronavirus concerns, but some protesters defied the ban. Approximately 23,000 people around France protested on 6 June against racial injustice, reigniting national debate over violence and racism within the police force and accountability in law enforcement, including for the death of Adama Traoré, a young black man killed due to suspected police brutality in July 2016, the Associated Press reports.