Experts Weigh In On Whether Or Not The George Floyd Protests Are Spreading The Coronavirus

The issue of whether or not the George Floyd protests could be contributing to the spread of the coronavirus has been raised in the media ever since they erupted two weeks ago. However, as Slate reports, the answer to the question of whether or not the protests are spreading the virus is muddled. What's more, as the virus is new and not yet fully understood, solid answers to these questions are even more elusive.

"We should be worried," said Shira Shafir, an associate professor of epidemiology at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health.

For months, health officials have been telling Americans to avoid large crowds, maintain a distance of 6 feet from others, and wear masks when around others.

Photos from the protests show that, while some of the protesters have been wearing masks, some have not. And of course, with tens of thousands of people crammed into small sections of cities, maintaining a distance of 6 feet between protesters has been all but impossible.

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - MAY 26: Protesters march on Hiawatha Avenue while decrying the killing of George Floyd on May 26, 2020 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Four Minneapolis police officers have been fired after a video taken by a bystander was posted on social media showing Floyd's neck being pinned to the ground by an officer as he repeatedly said,
Getty Images | Stephen Maturen

"Any time now we see people who are not maintaining social distancing, there's the potential for those people to spread the virus," Shafir said.

However, there are other factors at play besides just large crowds crammed into small spaces and protesters wearing masks or not wearing them.

For example, the protests have taken place during the last week of May and the first week of June — a time when summer heat is starting to rear its head. And, in laboratory settings at least, hot temperatures and humidity slow the spread of viruses. However, it also bears noting that in places that are always hot and humid, like parts of Brazil, the coronavirus has run rampant.

That the protests are taking place outside, rather than indoors, may play a role as well. The medical community seems to be in agreement that an open-air setting is safer than an enclosed, indoor space when it comes to spreading the virus.

However, there are other factors involved in the protests that may actually be contributing to its spread, beyond just the packed crowds and the lack (in some cases) of masks.

The chanting, shouting and singing, for example, are expelling virus particles from the lungs and mouths of those doing them. Further, many protests have led to arrests, after which arrestees are placed into cramped holding cells with others. And in some cases, police have deployed tear gas, weakening the lungs of those who inhale it and putting them at risk of contracting the virus.

Shafir said that the protests during the time of the coronavirus have shined a light on not one but two public health crises.

"I think we're currently facing two public health crises. The first is COVID. And the second is racism and police violence that we've been facing for centuries." Shafir said.