Public health officials say there’s no evidence that recent protests have led to any outbreaks of COVID-19. Still, marchers are being asked to get tested.
Speculation that protests might spread the coronavirus has been going on since they began. Demonstrators are usually asked to wear masks, and the warm outdoors is generally seen as safer than indoor environments. But social distancing is impossible in a crowd.
The large events to honor the death of George Floyd and protest police brutality don’t seem to be a factor in the pandemic, though. Nashville Mayor John Cooper says an outbreak caused by demonstrations would have begun to surface by now, and so far none has. Tennessee Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey also says there doesn’t appear to be a connection between the state’s uptick in cases.
That said, Dr. James Hildreth of Meharry Medical College says demonstrations are ideal for spreading the coronavirus because people are yelling at the top of their lungs and not everyone is wearing face coverings. The city has seen protesters arriving at free drive-thru testing sites as a precaution, and most are negative. But Hildreth has noticed something they seem to have in common.
“Most of the people who have participated in the rallies and has come to get tested are white,” he says. “We need everyone who has participated in the rallies and marches to get tested” including African Americans.
Asked whether the city’s continued policy of sharing information about positive cases with police was scaring people away, Hildreth says he hasn’t seen this occurring. But at least one protester who attended the first large demonstration on May 30 and Wednesday’s protest related to the removal of the Nathan Bedford Forrest bust in the state capitol tells WPLN News privacy concerns are precisely why he didn’t go get a test after demonstrating with thousands of others.
“And I’m a blonde haired blue eyed white guy,” says comedian Chad Riden of Nashville. “I can’t imagine how a person of color or an immigrant would feel if they’re in the same situation I’m in.”
So now Riden worries.
“I did not want to go out of the house and be around that many people at the protest. … As soon as I left, I was really paranoid. And ever since, I’ve been walking around asking, is my throat scratchy?”