Welcome back. It has been a relatively quiet 2 weeks at our hospital’s COVID ward. Not so much for the rest of the country. Unless you have been living under a rock the past few days, you know that there are groups gathering in different cities across the country in protest about social injustice, specifically related to the unfortunate events that happened in Minneapolis on May 25th wherein an unarmed African American male named George Floyd died while a Caucasian police officer kept his knee on Mr. Floyd’s neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds after a deli employee called 911, accusing him of buying cigarettes with a counterfeit $20 bill. And the rest, as they say, is history.
So the questions are: Is there a way for large groups to march and chant safely, with CDC and local public health authority COVID-19 guidelines in mind? Tricky.
What are the risks involved? A lot.
Could this kind of behavior, if not corrected, lead to a rise in cases of COVID-19? Short answer: Yes.
This issue will be heavily politicized in the current environment. I will be speaking as a private individual wearing two hats. One hat is officially worn by an infectious disease specialist with expansive view of epidemiology, pathogenesis of the current pandemic and the other one by a decent human being appalled by social injustice.
Let us go back to the technical definition of social distancing aka physical distancing which is keeping a space between yourself and other people outside of your home by maintaining a 6 foot distance between you and another person, avoiding gathering in groups, and staying out of crowded places.
One of the major reasons why this democracy is great is because of individual rights that we are inherently entitled including peaceful protest which could be tricky during this time of the pandemic. If one has to, one should wear a mask and maintain a 6 foot distance between himself or herself and his or her fellow protestors; however, once the protest becomes rowdy and violent and the destruction of property and the looting begin there is no safe way to maintain social distancing. The government also has inherent right and responsibility to maintain order in the community and might need to use pepper sprays, tear gas to disperse the crowd to do so that could lead to people/protesters coughing, yelling/screaming and removing their masks (if they’re wearing one) which is an efficient way to spread the virus in a mass gathering.
Yes, I am disgusted by what happened to George Floyd and other people of color who suffered similar fates. I believe there needs to be more policing of the police and a better system of reviewing all officers’ body cameras to ensure this kind of behavior stops. People are naturally good. I truly believe that. That includes most if not all police officers I personally know. That being said, I commend the way my local police officers including Oxford and Anniston Chiefs have handled themselves and their station during this difficult time.