How To Safely Protest Amid The Pandemic, According To Experts
Mass protests against police brutality have broken out around the country, following the death of 46-year-old George Floyd. Crowds are gathering in streets to demand justice for Floyd, and all of the innocent black lives lost, overlooked, or living in fear because of systemic racism. As they gather, public health officials have raised concerns over protesting safely in the middle of a pandemic.
Knowing your risk of COVID-19 is important, and so is knowing your rights. Health experts have shared information to help you protest safely, if you choose to do so.
What health care professionals are saying.
"All things considered, there's little doubt that these protests will translate into increased risk of transmission for COVID-19," computational public health researcher Maimuna Majumder, Ph.D., tells the Atlantic. That said, "structural racism has been a public health crisis for much longer than the pandemic has," Majumder explains.
That structural racism has even left racial and ethnic minority groups more vulnerable to the coronavirus. "People of color, particularly African Americans, are experiencing more serious illness and death due to COVID-19 than white people," VP and chief diversity officer Sherita Hill Golden, M.D., MHS, writes for Johns Hopkins Medicine.
These health inequities are often due to economic and social conditions that are more common among people of color, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) explains. "In public health emergencies, these conditions can also isolate people from the resources they need to prepare for and respond to outbreaks."
Those risks are still very real and should be taken seriously. "Protesting during a pandemic is complicated because joining in the protest carries risks of infection," public health researcher Eleanor Murray, ScD, MPH, tells mbg. "So, protesting in a pandemic is important when the aim of the protest is to address a life-and-death or public health problem. Racism and police violence are both."
As a reminder, the coronavirus is thought to be spread through respiratory droplets, like coughing and sneezing, but also shouting or chanting. Person-to-person transmission is the most common, especially when people are within 6 feet of each other. "The virus that causes COVID-19 is spreading very easily and sustainably between people," the CDC says.
Social distancing is a strategy used to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and one way the CDC recommends doing that is by avoiding crowded places and mass gatherings. Most protests, by nature, can't fully adhere to social distancing recommendations, and they will likely lead to a spike in cases, according to experts.
Protesting is not recommended for those who are sick, showing symptoms, or have a preexisting illness, but there are ways to protest from home (more on that below). For those who are healthy and choose to participate in the protests, there are a few suggestions for doing so safely.
Precautions to take if you are protesting:
1. Wear a face covering.
Wearing a face covering, like a cloth mask, can help prevent the spread of respiratory droplets, which can protect those around you (here's how to make a mask at home, if needed). Masks are most effective when combined with social distancing, according to the CDC.
2. Prioritize signs or noisemakers.
The New York City Department of Health recommends using noisemakers or holding signs rather than yelling. Combined with a mask, this can further prevent the spread of respiratory droplets.
3. Stick with the buddy system.
It's going to be difficult to stay 6 feet from everyone during a crowded protest. When possible, though, try to distance from strangers and stick with a buddy system.
Murray tells us the buddy system is helpful for keeping unknown contacts low. Protesting with friends or family is also important for safety reasons unrelated to the virus.
4. Bring hand sanitizer.
When there's no access to soap and water, the CDC recommends using hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol to wash your hands. You should do this frequently to prevent the spread of COVID-19. "Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands," they say.
5. Self-quarantine afterward.
Murray recommends self-quarantining for 14 days following the protests. "If at any time in that period they develop symptoms, they should seek COVID-19 testing," she says.
Anyone personally experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, or living with anyone at higher risk of illness, could consider protesting from home or finding other ways to take action.
How to protest from home.
There are several ways to take action and protest from home for those who can't safely leave during the pandemic, including donating to anti-racist organizations, helping with hotlines, and calling your government representatives. Here are some other suggestions:
- Keep this YouTube video playing in the background. The video project gives 100% of ad revenue to Black Lives Matter.
- Find a local black-owned bookstore near you, and become educated on race issues in America. These books are a good place to start.
- For those who have the means, consider donating to organizations like The National Bail Fund Network, The Bail Project, or the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. Or support a local organization that helps provide bail funds to protesters.