The COVID-19 pandemic has not gone away! The news coverage and attention paid by most of the federal government, as well as the public, to this ongoing health and economic disaster has been supplanted by the aftermath of the brutal murder of George Floyd. COVID-19 rages on in the USA. We now have roughly 109,000 deaths and 1.9 million cases. We continue to lose approximately 1,000 Americans per day. Nineteen states are still showing upward case trends that are increasing more than can be attributed to increased testing. Approximately 435,000 people have been hospitalized and recovered.  There remains no medication to prevent the disease. Multiple studies have shown that hydroxychloroquine is not only ineffective but has dangerous side effects when used to treat or prevent this coronavirus infection. Remdesivir (an antiviral intravenous medication) and convalescent plasma (blood plasma from previously infected people) is being used for patients with severe COVID-19. A recent very disturbing report from the CDC noted that 39% of surveyed people reported participating in “non-recommended high-risk practices of washing their food with bleach, applying disinfectants to the skin, or intentionally inhaling or ingesting these products”. Please do not do these things despite what may be stated, inferred, or implied by others. Extensive work is being done on a vaccine for COVID-19, but widespread availability is not expected until sometime in 2021. African Americans continue to be disproportionately affected by COVID-19, accounting for approximately 24% of the deaths while composing roughly 13% of the US population. The recognized measures to prevent the spread of this disease, including social distancing, wearing masks when in public, hand washing, disinfecting hard surfaces, testing, contact tracing, isolation, and proper treatment remain essential. Mixed messaging coming out of the top of the federal government has resulted in considerable skepticism regarding adherence to these policies as states have reopened.  Time will tell, since we know that there is a 2-3-week lag time between events and the COVID-19 disease appearance.

 

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

Treasurer

Cincinnati Medical Association