While the number of new Covid-19 cases per day has decreased over the past ten days across the nation and in major population centers where protests are taking place, it remains to be seen whether the protests will result in a spike in new infections.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, it can take between 2-14 days for coronavirus symptoms to develop, so it may not be until mid to late June that the effect of these protests and mass gatherings will be recognized.
Based on CDC data, the average number of new positive coronavirus cases per day nationwide in the ten days after 5/25, when George Floyd was murdered, compared to the ten days before 5/26, has decreased from about 22,700 to about 20,000, about a 12% decrease. Additionally, the total number of new cases on June 1 and June 3 are lower than any other day except for May 17, since March 25.
The decrease in the number of positive cases has occurred despite the fact that the number of coronavirus tests conducted per day has steadily risen since mid-March. The U.S. has conducted at least 400,000 tests per day each day in the last week.
Protests broke out on the Tuesday following Floyd’s death, and quickly spread across the country. Some of the biggest protests outside of Minnesota have taken place in cities such as Chicago and New York City.
In Minnesota, statewide data indicates that the average number of cases in the nine days after May 25 has decreased by 37% compared to the previous nine days.
In Chicago, the average number of new daily cases decreased by 59% from the seven day periods of May 20-26 to May 27-June 2. Similarly, In New York City, the average number of new cases per day has decreased by about 48% in the same range of dates. While the most recent data can change due to delays in reporting, the initial reporting indicates that new cases of coronavirus have decreased this week.
Public health officials have encouraged protesters to take precautions to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. On Thursday, the Illinois Department of Public Health issued a statement that, recommends, “anyone who has recently been part of a mass gathering, including rallies and protests over the past week, get tested for coronavirus disease.”
Additionally, the Virginia Department of Health issued a statement which recommended, “protesters wear masks, wash hands frequently, stay six feet apart from others in crowds, and, if symptoms appear, stay home and call their health care provider.”
There have been concerns that the use of tear gas by the police against protesters could increase the probability that protesters could be infected with the coronavirus. An open letter signed by almost 1,300 public health professionals, infectious diseases experts, and community activists, recommended that police stop using tear gas because it, “could increase risk for COVID-19 by making the respiratory tract more susceptible to infection, exacerbating existing inflammation, and inducing coughing.”
The protests against police brutality and the death of George Floyd have spread internationally, in places such as the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and New Zealand. However, some governments have sought to stop mass protests from taking place in order to limit the spread of the coronavirus. In Australia, New South Wales’ Supreme Court issued an injunction to prevent a protest from taking place in Sydney on Saturday. The Swedish government has tried to discourage people from protesting in person by saying they should air their grievances online, as gatherings of over 50 people are banned. However, thousands of people still rallied in person in Stockholm.