GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — As West Michigan prepares for another round of protests this weekend, the Kent County Health Department is asking people to use caution to help prevent the spread of the conronavirus.
“As an epidemiologist, when I look at crowds of people in tight proximity in the midst of a pandemic that’s spread by a respiratory virus, that’s concerning to me,” said Dr. Adam London, director of the Kent County Health Department. “There is a deep respect that we have for the right to protest and the freedom of speech and for the cause that so many of these peaceful protests are focused on. Justice for all, equality, and an end to racism and violence and hatred."
Recent rallies have brought hundreds, even thousands, of people together to protest police brutality and racial injustice.
London says he and his staff fully support the protests.
“We support and stand side-by-side everyone who is seeking justice and an end to violence and racism,” said London.
However, London explains the protest, and others like it during the pandemic, are a breeding ground for COVID-19’s spread.
“We know this virus spreads most effectively through the inhalation of the virus,” said London.
The could happen while protestors chant or even cough after being tear gassed.
“Those kinds of things are pushing more, more moisture out of the mouth, carrying virus with that potentially and creating an environment where there is an even greater risk for transmission,” said London. “When we have people in that close proximity, that’s concerning.”
On Friday, Kent County recorded its fifth day in a row with 40 new cases of coronavirus or less, which London says last happened in mid-April, and two deaths over three days.
He adds it will take about two weeks for health officials to understand if the protests are having an impact on infection rates.
However, London says it could be difficult to link any possible increase to the protests since Michigan is also reopening its economy and recently lifted its stay-at-home order.
“It might be really difficult to assign attribution to either an increase or decrease in cases to any one thing,” said London.
He says people should stay home, but understands that’s unlikely because it’s an issue people want to address now.
London recommends people continue to wear masks, sanitize, and maintain six feet of distance if they attend a protest.
“Use the tools and skills that we’ve talked about for several months now to reduce your risk,” said London.
He adds if anyone is sick, they should stay home and instead write a letter or call their local leaders to voice their concerns. London also suggests protestors tell their family, friends, and coworkers they participated in a public protest.
“What would be concerning, would be if they were to take asymptomatic infections back to their community, back to their family, and then infect others who are at higher risk,” said London. “We can’t afford for any kind of illness to be spread unnecessarily in the community.”