Coronavirus: Doctors express concern about possible COVID spread among large groups of protesters

As protesters gather in large groups, doctors and public health officials are raising new concerns that the mass demonstrations may result in a spike of COVID-19 infections.

Will it impact the progress made so far in flattening the curve?

Chanting, clashing, close contact and COVID-19. It's a dangerous combination.

Epidemiologists watching the harried scenes unfold describe the large, unevenly masked groups as an uncontrolled experiment in disease spread.

Dr. Suman Radhakrishna, the director of infectious disease at Dignity Health California Hospital said: "We might see a spike. You know, all the efforts we made to flatten that surge -- I hope it doesn't go to waste."

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She said being outdoors helps, but the proximity, activity and length of exposure increases the likelihood of transmission.

"And when you shout and scream, you propel the secretions more because you are putting more effort," she said. "People are so close to each other and I'm sure nobody was washing their hands frequently."

Radhakrishna said it takes up to two weeks for people to show symptoms. Many can go on to become asymptomatic. For this reason, mayors in cities across the country are encouraging people to get tested.

"If you were out protesting last night you probably need to go get a COVID test this week," Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said.

Dozens of testing sites are closed due to demonstrations, but you can still sign up to L.A. County's website for a free appointment.

Radakrishna said, "So by next week if we start to see more cases, then perhaps we can attribute it to this."

Dr. Barbara Ferrer, director of the L.A. Country Department of Public Health, said: "There's a lot of risk at these gatherings becoming super spreader events."

Public health officials are offering safe ways to express political views which include in-car protests, limited gatherings with masks and using online methods. These are ways to protect your freedom of speech and your health.

"There is a reason why the protest had to happen," Radhakrishna said. "But do understand COVID-19 is still a reality. And I agree and wholeheartedly support it, but let's do it right."
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