The mayor of Atlanta, one of dozens of U.S. cities hit by massive protests in recent days, has a message for demonstrators: “If you were out protesting last night, you probably need to go get a COVID test this week.”
As more beaches, schools and businesses reopened worldwide, civil unrest in the United States over repeated racial injustice is raising fears of new coronavirus outbreaks in a country that has seen more infections and deaths than anywhere else in the world.
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms warned that “there is still a pandemic in America that’s killing black and brown people at higher numbers.”
Violent protests over the death of George Floyd have shaken the country from New York City to Minneapolis, from Atlanta to Los Angeles. Some protests have turned into riots and clashes with police, leaving stores burned and torched cars in the streets. City officials have ordered overnight curfews to quell the violence.
Floyd, a black man, died on May 25 in Minneapolis after a white police officer pressed a knee into his neck. It was the latest in a series of deaths of black men and women at the hands of police in America.
Health experts fear that silent carriers of the virus who have no symptoms could unwittingly infect others at protests where people are packed cheek to jowl, many without masks.
“Whether they’re fired up or not, that doesn’t prevent them from getting the virus,” said Bradley Pollock, chairman of the Department of Public Health Sciences at the University of California, Davis.
The U.S. has seen over 1.7 million infections and nearly 104,000 deaths in the pandemic, which has disproportionately affected racial minorities in a nation that does not have universal health care.
After another night of unrest in Minneapolis, the Minnesota health commissioner warned that the protests are almost certain to fuel new infections.
“We have two crises that are sandwiched on top of one other,” Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey said.
Even for the many protesters wearing masks, those don’t guarantee protection. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says cloth masks keep infected people from spreading the virus but are not designed to protect wearers from getting it.
More than 6 million infections have been reported worldwide, with nearly 370,000 deaths, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University. The true death toll is believed to be significantly higher, with experts saying many victims died of the virus without ever being tested.