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Protesting in the time of COVID-19

We’ve known for a long time that racism is a deeply ingrained public health issue resulting in real, tangible health disparities. For people of color, racism results in unequal access to quality education, healthy food, livable wages, affordable housing, and medical care. We also know very well that COVID-19 is disproportionately impacting our communities of color. Studies show that Black, Latinx, and Native American patients are much more likely to get infected and die from COVID-19 than whites.

Research also shows that Black, Native American, and Latino men are far more likely than whites to be killed by police, the murder of George Floyd being a vivid and unarguable example. How can we not pay attention, listen, and effect change? As people stand together and raise their voices, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic means we need to do so safely.

I’ve worked on the COVID-19 wards, and I’ve seen how contagious this virus can be and what these deaths look like. It takes five to seven days to show symptoms. Seven to 10 days after that, people can get sicker and show up at the hospital. We saw this in our hospital in April, with a bump in cases two weeks after the Easter weekend. Many of us in the medical field were worried that if protesters didn’t take precautions when exercising their First Amendment right to protest, people would get sick in large numbers, likely disproportionately affecting Black, Native American, and Latinx people.

However, we now have data showing that the COVID-19 infection rate among protesters has been remarkably low: 2.5% here in Massachusetts, with our overall infection rate continuing to decline. This mirrors the nationwide trend among protesters, and here’s why: protests have been held outdoors, and for the most part people have been wearing masks and maintaining social distancing.

I’ve been caring for patients with presumed or confirmed COVID-19 since mid-March, and so far I haven’t had any symptoms of infection. On the wards, we were at least four clinicians in the hospital work room, for hours.

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Written by Shobha

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