Some public health experts support protests in spite of the coronavirus risks: 'White supremacy is a lethal public health issue'
- Some public health experts say there could be a resurgence of coronavirus cases as a result of mass protests across the US against police brutality.
- But many say they support protesting in spite of the risk.
- "White supremacy is a lethal public health issue that predates and contributes to COVID-19," a letter signed by over 1,000 public health experts said.
In the midst of a deadly pandemic, people are taking to the streets in large droves to protest police brutality and anti-Blackness, spurred by the killing of George Floyd, a Black man who died after Minneapolis police officers knelt on his neck and pinned him down during an arrest.
Some public health experts are now saying that while the large crowds at the protests across the country could lead to an increase in coronavirus cases, police brutality against Black people is a more serious and lasting public health crisis.
"One in every 1,000 Black men and boys can expect to be killed by police in this country," Dr. Maia Majumder, an epidemiologist at Harvard Medical School, told Vox. "To me, this clearly illustrates why police brutality is a public health problem; anything that causes mortality at such a scale is a public health problem."
—Dr. Seema Yasmin (@DoctorYasmin) June 1, 2020
A letter signed by over 1,200 public health experts, including Dr. Ayesha Appa, Infectious Diseases Chief Fellow at University of California San Francisco; Dr. Jade Pagkas-Bather, an Instructor of Medicine specializing in infectious diseases at the University of Chicago; and Dr. Jessica Cataldi, a pediatric infectious disease specialist, spoke out in support of the protestors.
"White supremacy is a lethal public health issue that predates and contributes to COVID-19," the letter said.
Experts say the systemic racism protestors are marching against causes Black people to die of COVID-19 at disproportionate rates
Andrew Slavitt, the former Acting Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Service, said that many of the systemic inequalities caused by racism in the US are the same factors that lead to Black communities dying at disproportionate rates during the pandemic.
—Andy Slavitt @ (@ASlavitt) June 2, 2020
Lack of access to health care, living in densely populated areas, and disproportionately working jobs that are in contact with more people all contribute to the high rate of coronavirus deaths among Black Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"Data is showing that Blacks and Latinos have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19 in many states," Dr. Elaine Nsoesie, an assistant professor of global health at Boston University, told NPR. "Racism is one of the reasons this disparity exists. Racism is a social determinant of health. It affects the physical and mental health of blacks in the U.S. So I wouldn't weigh these crises separately."
Police tear-gassing protestors and arresting people makes the risk of coronavirus spread higher
While tightly-packed crowds pose a virus transmission risk, wearing masks and remaining in outdoor spaces during demonstrations can lower that risk.
Dr. Tom Frieden, former head of the CDC, said the risk of coronanvirus transmission from protesting outside is significantly less than recent actions of the government.
—Dr. Tom Frieden (@DrTomFrieden) June 2, 2020
The real concern for infection is when police officers arrest protesters and put them in jail cells where they are in close quarters with other people, Dr. Helen Jenkins, an infectious disease epidemiologist at Boston University, tweeted.
—Helen Jenkins (@jenkinshelen) June 1, 2020
Police have also been firing tear gas canisters into crowds and using pepper spray on demonstrators.
The use of these tactics by law enforcement officials increases the likelihood of spreading the coronavirus, according to Majumder.
—Maia Majumder, PhD ✊ (@maiamajumder) May 30, 2020
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