With Phase 2 of Gov. Charlie Baker's economic reopening plan underway and ongoing protests in the wake of George Floyd's death, there's a focus on testing and protesting right now in Massachusetts.
The city is urging people who've participated in protests to get tested for COVID-19. Starting Wednesday, demonstrators can get free COVID-19 testing at more than 20 different sites in Boston.
One such pop-up site at Washington Park Mall will open from noon to 7 p.m. on Wednesday and Thursday at 330 MLK Jr. Blvd. in Roxbury.
The huge turnout in Boston for marches and protests has brought thousands of people together over the last 10 days.
“It’s definitely a balancing act between important social messages that absolutely need to happen and protecting public health,” said Dr. Andrew Lover, an assistant professor of infectious disease epidemiology at UMass-Amherst. “Large crowds of people, especially yelling and screaming with lots of droplets, it’s definitely a huge risk.”
So far there’s no evidence of any major uptick in coronavirus cases following the large gatherings, but health experts say they’ll be paying close attention to the numbers over the next several days.
“I do think that there’s potential risk that there will be a spike in infections and that transmission can occur in that setting ,” said Dr. Helen Jenkins, an assistant professor of epidemiology at Boston University. “But I want to be clear that from a public health perspective they’re protesting a public health crisis in systemic racism and police brutality.”
Big crowds are exactly what health experts have been cautioning against since the pandemic began.
The Boston Public Health Commission posted Tuesday that protesters may have been exposed to COVID-19, and it’s recommending that people who attended the rallies get tested even if they don’t have symptoms of the virus.
“And we encourage you if you’ve been in large groups and you’ve been rallying or demonstrating and raising your voice to go get tested,” said Marty Martinez, the city of Boston’s Chief of Health and Human Services.
Protest organizers have urged people to wear masks and be as socially distant as possible, despite the crowding.
Being outdoors helped as well, making it less dangerous than having large crowds inside.
“People are moving around at these protests,” said Dr. Nancy Krieger, a professor of social epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “Many of them are in motion, they’re not stationary, standing still, packed together in one place for long periods of time.”
While the number of COVID-19 cases has continued to go up, it has been at a much slower rate. State health officials reported another 55 deaths in people with the virus caused by the new coronavirus, on Tuesday, along with another 263 new cases.
According to the most recent report from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, the number of people with the virus who have died is now 7,408, while 103,889 people have been diagnosed across the commonwealth.