US protests show closing gaps creates spaces for coronavirus

Updated 10 Jun 2020

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An expert on the virus at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Institute, said that each day of protests could result in about 3,000 new cases and 50 to 500 deaths. — AFP/File
An expert on the virus at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Institute, said that each day of protests could result in about 3,000 new cases and 50 to 500 deaths. — AFP/File

WASHINGTON: Almost half of the 50 US states were showing upward trends in coronavirus cases as nationwide anti-racism protests abruptly ended social-distancing, the US media warned on Monday.

About 20 of these 22 states had seen decreases in recent days, and eight states were holding steady, showed statistics collected by CNN.

“Reopening states are blindsided by protests,” observed The New York Times, while pointing out that the outrage over George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis last month has had a negative impact on precautions against the spread of the Covid-19 virus.

So far, more than 1.9 million Americans have been infected by this virus, and more than 110,000 have died in just over four months, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. So, any sign of an increase in infections alarms the entire nation.

Before the eruption of this outrage, “debates about reopening centered on whether states had adequate systems in place to detect and treat coronavirus cases. But as the protests against police brutality enter a third week, public officials are warily watching for signs of a spike in new cases,” NYT noted.

Trevor Bedford, an expert on the virus at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Institute, wrote on Twitter that each day of protests could result in about 3,000 new cases and 50 to 500 deaths. “Societal benefit of continued protests must be weighed against substantial potential impacts to health,” he warned.

CNN statistics showed that Florida had seen the biggest spikes in new Covid-19 cases where the number of daily new infections increased by roughly 46 per cent over the past week.

Dr Robert Redfield, the director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggested that protesters should be evaluated and tested for the virus. “I do think there is a potential, unfortunately, for this to be a seeding event,” he warned while urging people to continue to “keep 6 feet between yourself & others when possible and wear a cloth face covering.”

In another tweet, he reminded Americans that “Covid-19-associated hospitalisations are highest among some minority populations,” such as African Americans.

“There’s no point in denying the obvious: Standing in a crowd for long periods raises the risk of increased transmission” the Atlantic magazine warned in an article published on Monday.

In a recent radio interview, Anthony Fauci, the director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, also underlined this point. “This particular form of mass, in-person protest — and the corresponding police response — is a perfect set-up for transmission of the virus,” he said.

The Atlantic noted that some rights activists were also aware of the risk involved in the protests and had tried to organise less risky forms of protests, by maintaining social-distancing and wearing face masks.

The media reminded Americans that so far social-distancing has been the most effective method of curbing the spread of coronavirus. The reports noted that such precautions have prevented an estimated 3.1 million Covid-19 deaths across the globe.

Published in Dawn, June 10th, 2020