COVID-19 has potential to spread during protests, marches, health experts warn

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CHICAGO (WGN) — The nationwide protests in the wake of George Floyd’s death may be putting people in danger in ways they don’t realize.

As protesters march side by side, they risked spreading and contracting the virus that can now infect thousands of households.

COVID-19 testing sites may also not be accessible, limiting diagnoses of the deadly disease.

Marchers, some not wearing masks, can be seen chanting, and in some cases screaming, during protests and demonstrations this week.

“When people are yelling or speaking in a loud voice, you do have more projection of saliva. And with that, potentially (the) virus,” Chicago Public Health Department’s Dr. Allison Arwady said.

Packed-in, moving crowds also do not allow protesters to stay a safe distance away from each other.

“One of the reasons we always make that 6-foot recommendation and have the cloth face covering recommendation, is those are the two best ways to prevent transmission,” Arwady said.

Now, before mass infections spread, health experts and officials in cities like Chicago are urging anyone who participated in the protest to self isolate.

“Please, in exercising your First Amendment rights, or if you were out for any other reason, you have now put yourself at risk and we need you to isolate yourself,” Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said.  “We need you to think about, and be conscious of, whether you are experiencing any signs or symptoms.”

“My worry is that we’ve already seen this so disproportionately impact black and brown communities in Chicago,” Arwady said.  “What I want is for all of us, especially those communities, is to get on the other side of COVID here. And so if people can do these things that help keep themselves safe, help keep their close contacts safe, it’s in the best interest of them and then really the whole city.”

Protesters are urged to stay far away from their family member in high coronavirus risk due to diabetes, heart disease, asthma, age or obesity.

“I really want people to recognize that over these next 14 days … I don’t want you in close contact with people who have those underlying conditions or people who are over 60 because you have a higher potential than you did previously to spread it,” Arwady said. “Nothing has changed about COVID and the problem is the virus doesn’t care what else is going on. The virus is just looking for opportunities to spread.”

Testing in Chicago was halted Monday – even for people with symptoms – as the Illinois Department of public health was concerned about staff and potential patient safety. However, the city of Chicago has plenty of testing sites through hospitals and clinics. If you have symptoms, the message is, “Get tested.”

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