The Trump administration warned state leaders that the mass protests taking place across the country could lead to a second wave of coronavirus infections. According to audio of a phone call with governors across the country obtained by The Daily Beast, Dr. Deborah Birx said that experts leading the federal coronavirus response team were concerned that the shouting at protests, along with the destruction of 70 testing sites during demonstrations, could result in the spread of COVID-19.
Protests have taken place across the country, not only in large cities, but in many small communities. The civil unrest is part of the outcry against police brutality in the U.S. against black Americans after the death of George Floyd.
Birx, along with Vice President Mike Pence, who hosted the call, said that protest-related spikes are a “concern” and that increasing access to testing would be essential in the coming days, noting that testing had already dropped in areas where the test sites were destroyed, even as cases are spiking in some states.
CDC Direct Robert Redfield echoed those statements in a call of his own. Birx mentioned in that call that while they haven’t seen a spike in cases from people easing social distancing guidelines over the Memorial Day weekend, it was possible that cases would increase in areas that saw demonstrations, particularly as more people have turned out in recent days who may be in at-risk categories.
Birx and other experts’ concerns emphasize the fact that the novel coronavirus pandemic isn’t in the rearview, yet. While some members of the Trump administration seem to have moved on, including the president himself, the phone calls reveal that there is still concern about the future trajectory of the virus.
“The president seems to think the hardest part [of the pandemic] is over,” said one administration official.
Meanwhile, as Fox News reports, a doctor with Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security says that it’s unlikely the protests will help hasten herd immunity, something that some people have suggested could take place.
“It’s very hard to achieve herd immunity levels. It’s estimated that we need to probably have about 60 percent of the population infected to cross that immunity threshold [for the coronavirus],” Dr. Amesh Adalja said. “And that is going to come at a cost. And that cost will be many deaths.”
“The question always is going to be keeping the number of cases in their place to a level that’s manageable by hospitals and health department contact tracing teams,” Adalja added.
For now, protesters are urged to wear masks and get tested.