4:13 PM, Feb 27, 2020


Ask Dr. Nandi: Nationwide protests haven't caused a COVID-19 spike (so far). Here's what we can learn from that

Posted at 8:30 AM, Jul 02, 2020

The Black Lives Matter protests that have taken place nationwide appear to not have caused a spike in COVID-19 cases.

Many feared that these gatherings would turn into “superspreader” events, where the virus would easily spread person to person.

This is really good news as many experts were expecting to link case increases to demonstrators. But if you look at New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia – those cities had huge protests, yet their case numbers did not surge.

A few cities that specifically tested demonstrators found that these folks were not more likely to test positive when compared to non-demonstrators.

Now, let me be clear and say that this does not mean that no one at the protests caught the virus. People did. Including several police officers and D.C. National Guard members. But the evidence to date shows that so far, these protests have not significantly increased community spread.

We know that younger people can catch the virus and not show any symptoms or have mild symptoms. And if they pass the virus to older folks, their risk is higher for developing severe disease. And they’re more likely you feel sick and seek out testing. And if that is happening, it’s hasn’t shown up in the data just yet – so it’s possible we may see higher numbers in the coming weeks.

Now, other factors that we need to look at is that these protests were outside - where the virus has a harder time spreading. And many of the demonstrators wore masks which we know reduces transmission.

Plus, one study that looked at cell phone data found that many people stayed home during this time, which could have counteracted increases due to the protests.

There are some good lessons here. This shows that it’s better to be outside than inside and that masks help and are effective.

The main thing is not to throw caution to the wind. Don’t think “well, I didn’t care last time and I didn’t get sick”.

Gathering in large groups does not mean there’s no risk. Remember, the virus is an opportunist. It’s just waiting for the next warm body to come close to it.

So that’s why it’s important to keep 6 feet away from others, to wear masks and demonstrate outdoors. I would also avoid touching things that others are handling or might have touched. Unless you can easily wash your hands or use hand sanitizer to clean them.

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