It is commonly known that many aspects of systemic racism that exists in the USA are significant contributors to the health care disparities that put African Americans at higher risk for COVID-19 infection. The murder of George Floyd on May 25, 2020 has resulted in international focus on brutal and disparate policing practices throughout America. This, and all aspects of racism are an affront to public health and are being exposed as a current second viral pandemic. Rectifying racial injustice includes not only police reform, but also healthcare, education, employment, and housing policy changes. Various aspects of these policies are being protested by a diverse collection of people from all fifty states and throughout the world. Americans and others protesting the torturing of George Floyd are more concerned about justice than their personal safety. Even knowing that COVID-19 remains a threat, they are risking their own lives, helping to make a more equitable opportunity for everyone’s life.
It is heartening to see that a remarkably diverse group of Americans is pushing all levels of our government to change policy so that policing is made fair, effective, and humane. From a public health standpoint, it is best that those brave protestors do what they can to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Remember that about 25% of people with COVID-19 are asymptomatic. If you are ill, stay home and find some other way or time to advocate for change. If you are in a vulnerable population then staying home is probably safest for you as well. Even though social distancing is likely to be impractical when in a throng of fellow protestors, stay 6 feet apart whenever you can. The proper wearing of an appropriate nose and mouth covering is essential as you protest since crowd conditions may change without notice. Fortunately, we are seeing a lot of face masks out there! Next, have available and use hand sanitizer frequently after you touch surfaces. Wash your hands (20 seconds) with soap and water when you can. Know that contact tracing is likely not going to be an effective option for public health authorities when someone later becomes ill or diagnosed as COVID-19 positive. Some government officials are even recommending that protestors self-isolate for 14 days or get tested for COVID-19 after about 7-10 days of isolation. This is not a CDC recommendation, but it makes sense to at least wear a mask and follow appropriate hygiene instructions when you need to be around anyone else for 14 days after you selflessly participate in a group protest activity.
We applaud the street protestors’ willingness to be on the front line for change. Power will not yield without protest. Protect your health as you do your part to help our country heal from this multi-generational virus.
Clyde E. Henderson, MD
Cincinnati Medical Association