More than 2 weeks after start of nationwide protests, little sign of COVID spike, but officials remain cautious
When protests began on May 25 after the murder of George Floyd, health experts feared that the large gatherings could trigger coronavirus outbreaks. But more than two weeks since these protests reached their climax, there is little evidence of it, even though officials point out that it is far too early and the circumstances are far too complicated to draw comprehensive conclusions.
"We see (so far) no increase in the number of cases related to the demonstrations," New York Department of Health spokesman Michael Lanza wrote in an email to Yahoo News on Tuesday.
Between June 3 and 14, New York City saw an average decrease in the number of positive cases per day of approximately 8.3 percent. In the seven days immediately before a possible incubation after the protest, New York City saw an average increase in the number of positive cases per day of around 11 percent.
The issue of health risks from mass rallies is difficult as supporters of President Trump have called for a double standard in which some public health officials who have been pushing for business closures have recently expressed their public support for the protests. While it is difficult to know why the Floyd protests have not yet caused an increase, supporters point out that the protests were taking place outdoors and encouraged the widespread use of facewear, which the organizers even distributed.
There are many variables that make it difficult to analyze the effects of the demonstrations, including irregularities in the reporting of daily numbers, general advances in the corona virus, and demonstrators from outside the various cities. The demonstrations also coincided with reopening measures and warmer weather, which has led to more people venturing outside, despite social distance recommendations.
Rich Azzopardi, a senior advisor to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, noticed the recent crowds in the city's restaurants and agreed that it was too early to see what the effects of the protests might be.
"We are keeping an eye on the measurement data, but it is too early to say what effects things like the crowds in the restaurant last weekend or the protests will have, if any." Stay smart, wear a mask, and wash your hands, ”Azzopardi told Yahoo News.
Protesters against police brutality in New York City earlier this month. (Yuki Iwamura / AP)
In Minneapolis, where large-scale protests began and continued shortly after Floyd's death, Casper Hill, a spokesman for the city, also cited variables and said it was too early to draw definitive conclusions about the possible impact of the protests.
“Given the reporting delay and testing schedule, it's too early to report. We also only have access to data from Minneapolis, and protesters came from other locations, so the state as a whole can be a better source of information, ”Hill wrote in an email to Yahoo News on Wednesday evening.
Minnesota Department of Health spokeswoman Julie Bartkey said it could take 42 days after the protests ended to see what the impact would be.
"Given the potential for asymptomatic spread of this virus, it is difficult to set an" all-clear "timeframe," Bartkey said in an email Tuesday. "We have to plan approximately 21 days for the first generation of infections to occur (ie 21 days after exposure to the test result - 14 days incubation plus a few more days to seek medical help or to be tested and the result will come to us) . ;; However, if there is an asymptomatic spread in a household, it may take another 14 to 21 days for these secondary cases to appear. "
Currently, however, Minnesota has not found a high level of positivity in testing demonstrators. According to Bartkey, Health Partners, a state-run healthcare provider, conducted coronavirus testing on 8,500 people at its sites, "who confirmed that the person participated in a protest, vigil, or cleanup." Of this, Bartkey said that there was "a 1 percent positive rate".
Protesters in Minneapolis on Saturday. (Kerem Yucel / AFP via Getty Images)
Washington, DC saw some of the country's biggest protests, particularly between May 29 and the first week of June. In a press conference on Wednesday afternoon, Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt, director of the DC Department of Health, said it was too early to say what impact the demonstrations could have had.
"I can't give you any trends," Nesbitt replied to a reporter's question. "Given the virus's incubation period, we would again expect it to be too early to draw conclusions about trends related to people's participation in demonstrations on the First Amendment."
Nesbitt also pointed to "complicating epidemiological factors", which included the gradual reopening at the same time as the protests.
At the same press conference, the Mayor of Washington, Muriel Bowser said that the city has "steadily decreased the spread of the virus in the community for 13 days from Wednesday".
Chicago has also been a place of great protest since Floyd's death. Kim Junius, a spokesman for the Cook County Department of Health covering Chicago, said it was not possible to draw a conclusion about the protests, despite the fact that officials there are monitoring the situation.
"We have not seen any increases related to protests so far," Junius said in an email. "We monitor COVID-like diseases based on major emergency complaints that are often used to identify potential problems before making formal diagnoses or reporting clusters."
The county, she added, "keeps an eye on it".
Erica Duncan, a spokeswoman for the Chicago Department of Public Health, gave a similar answer. "At this point, we have seen no impact on cases due to the protests," Duncan wrote on Wednesday.
There were major protests in several cities on the west coast, including Los Angeles and San Francisco. "We have no information on positive cases that are clearly related to the protests," a Los Angeles Department of Health spokesman wrote in an email.
In response to questions about possible coronavirus cases related to the protests, the San Francisco Department of Health issued a statement supporting the demonstrations and encouraging demonstrators to test themselves at their healthcare provider or at two city-operated locations to let .
"We support the right to protest injustice, and doing so is vital, especially in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic," the statement said, adding: "San Francisco supports and supports the community in civic action but also continued vigilance against the corona virus. We offer free COVID-19 tests for people who have recently participated in protests and want to be tested. ”
The San Francisco Department of Health also said, “The two test sites listed above don't ask people tested whether they have recently participated in demonstrations. Therefore, we do not know the data for demonstrators that tested positive. "
"We are closely monitoring whether there is a connection between the protest demonstrations and the [number] of positive cases," the statement said.
Protesters near the White House on June 6th. (Jacquelyn Martin / AP)
In addition to concerns about the spread of COVID-19 among the demonstrators, there is also a risk to the police and law enforcement agencies who responded, although data about the police is not readily available in the cities with the biggest protests.
In New York, the NYPD did not respond to a request for comment on the number of coronavirus cases in the department and whether any were linked to protests.
In Minneapolis, John Elder, the city's police officer, noted that the number of cases has increased, but the total number of cases remains in the single digits.
"We increased by one," said Elder on a phone call Wednesday. "We had four cases and rose to five at that point."
Elder noted that this small number of cases makes Minneapolis an "anomaly" compared to other "large urban departments" where hundreds of cases have occurred.
"Many of the demonstrators were wearing masks, many of our officers were wearing masks," said Elder of the demonstrations. “We approached this very, very proactively. We had put together a COVID task force. We have done everything to ... get supplies into the hands of our employees. "
This equipment included personal protective equipment such as masks, gloves and hand disinfectants, as well as accessories for cleaning uniforms.
While major protests are taking place in Minneapolis, Elder said that they are now largely peaceful, eliminating the "personal contact" between officers and demonstrators that occurred during more violent clashes in the early days of the protests.
In Washington D.C. the Metropolitan Police Department reports 142 cases of coronavirus among "sworn-in personnel". This number includes three new cases since June 4, an increase of 2.2 percent over the period in which an incubation could have taken place after the protests.
In Chicago, the police department said that a total of 569 coronavirus cases had occurred among civilians and sworn employees on Wednesday morning. The department's information officer, Sally Brown, said there has been "no increase in cases" since the Chicago police protests.
A protester confronts a New York police officer on May 28 (Johannes Eisele / AFP via Getty Images)
On the west coast, Sgt. Michael Andraychak, a public information officer at the San Francisco Police Department, told Yahoo News that Thursday, "six members" tested positive for COVID-19. "There is nothing to suggest that one of these cases is related to the recent protests," added Andraychak.
The Los Angeles Police Department has reported a significant increase in new coronavirus cases. According to official Norma Eisenmann, there were 177 cases among the department's sworn and civilian employees on Wednesday. This is an increase of 35 cases, or about 24.6 percent, since June 3, though it is difficult to know whether this is due to protests or the recent record increases in the city as a whole.
Alex Comisar, deputy communications director of the Mayor of Los Angeles, Eric Garceitti, answered questions on the increase in coronavirus cases among LAPD officials on Friday with a statement that highlighted the steps the city has taken to protect its police force.
“COVID-19 is as dangerous today as when we saw our first case, and Mayor Garcetti is taking all possible steps to protect Angelenos from this deadly disease. Los Angeles was the first city in the country to provide free testing to our key employees, including police officers, ”said Comisar. "These officers and first responders are at the forefront of this crisis, and the department is taking extensive measures to protect it."
The National Guard, along with local police, was deployed to cities across the country to respond to protests. When the Guard launched its protest missions, there were concerns that not only could its members be infected, but that their deployment could shift resources away from COVID-19 testing. Neither appears to be the case, spokesmen for guard offices from several states.
National Guard Bureau spokesman Maj.Rob Perino said that on June 5, roughly at the height of many protests, the National Guard had 41,506 employees supporting civil unrest in 33 states and the District of Columbia, while another 37,485 guardsmen led COVID-19 missions.
"It will not look like states are sacrificing one mission for another," Perino said. "We have a very deep bank of 450,000 soldiers across the country."
Of the 18 states Yahoo News surveyed, officials in 12 - New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Maryland, Illinois, West Virginia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin - said they were not forced to reduce the number of guards working on COVID-19 missions to deploy forces to assist local law enforcement during the protests.
California National Guard members in front of Los Angeles City Hall on May 31 (Ringo H.W. Chiu / AP)
A Minnesota National Guard spokesman said fewer than five staff members had to switch from one task to another, while a Georgia National Guard spokesman acknowledged that there had been "a lot of juggling" with the Guard's more than 2,000 staff Unrest by COVID-19-related missions, but could not immediately tell how many of the more than 3,000 guard forces Georgia now counts as involved in COVID-19 or domestic unrest missions had to be moved from the former to the latter. "We never stopped working on COVID-19," she said.
However, a spokesman for the Florida National Guard said that of the 550 Florida Guardsmen who carried out civil unrest, "a few hundred" were diverted by the COVID-19 service. "The soldiers who carried out COVID-19 missions before being redirected to civil unrest missions were primarily involved in the operation of community-based test sites," said Lieutenant Colonel Caitlin Brown of the Air Force. "These soldiers were backfilled and every affected COVID-19 mission was fully operational again within 24 hours."
The spokesmen for the National Guards of California and District of Columbia did not respond to requests.
Lt. Col. Brad Leighton, a spokesman for the Illinois National Guard, denied a news report that found that the state guards had been deposed by the COVID-19 test sites "to help local police departments reduce violence and property protect". This did not happen in part because the COVID-19 missions were paid for by the federal government and the prosecution was supported by the state treasuries.
There also appeared to be no known sharp increase in guardsmen cases in the countries contacted by Yahoo News.
Demonstrators in Los Angeles on June 3 (Ringo H. W. Chiu / AP)
Guardsman spokesmen sent from other countries to assist law enforcement in handling the protests in Washington, DC, said they were mostly wearing masks and had taken all possible precautions to avoid catching or spreading the corona virus .
For the 400 Mississippi National Guardsmen deployed to DC, “the deployment area guidance and mission on site was to maintain social distance wherever and whenever possible and to wear masks when social distance was not a viable option focus was on maintaining the mission, ”Lieutenant Colonel Deidre Smith, a spokesman for the Mississippi Guard, said in an email to Yahoo News.
The Mississippi Guardsmen were screened for the virus prior to leaving Mississippi and daily during the mission and, according to Smith, were quarantined in the performance of their military orders upon their return to their home state. By June 12, none of them had tested positive for COVID-19.
The Idaho National Guard also dispatched "a little over 400" troops to DC, according to Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Chris Borders, a spokesman for the Idaho Guard. According to Borders, all Guardsmen received masks from Idaho and were screened for COVID-19 before leaving for DC. Their mission to protect the Washington Monument and the Lincoln and Jefferson Monuments meant that they avoided close contact with demonstrators.
Guardsmen from Idaho wore masks on their flights to and from Washington and, according to Borders, were sent home to isolate themselves. As of June 12, "we have no positive tests in the Idaho National Guard," he said.
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