Medical Professionals Concerned Large Protests Will Lead to Spike in Coronavirus Cases

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As thousands of people protested the death of George Floyd in Boston, throughout Massachusetts and across the nation this weekend, a big concern among medical professionals is what those large gatherings could mean for the spread of the coronavirus.

"I'm definitely concerned about the level of contact," said Dr. David Hamer, an infectious disease specialist with Boston Medical Center. "I noted that a lot of the protesters, but not all, were wearing masks."

"We're not just worried about tear gas or patients just getting burned or getting injured from thrown objects, we're also worried about delayed exposure of COVID," said Dr. Ali Raja, the executive vice chair of the Department of Emergency Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Raja says doctors worry about exposure from asymptomatic carriers.

"We won't see more patients tomorrow or the next day, we'll see them somewhere from seven to 14 days from now, where we'll see a spike in people who were at the protest now coming down with symptoms," Raja said.

Hamer says the hope is that the spread may not be as concentrated as if the protests had been stationary and indoors.

"If you're outside, there's a lot of air movement, and so that any aerosol that might be spread from an infected person is going to be fairly rapidly dispersed just by natural air currents and wind," said Hamer.

But both doctors agree traditional contact tracing may be nearly impossible.

"In the context of a protest or a riot," Hamer said, "it's not going to work because you won't know who you've been near in that setting."

Both doctors wanted to make it clear, they're not saying people should not protest – but they should wear personal protective gear and socially distance as much as possible to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

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