A letter signed by nearly 1,300 public health professionals, infectious diseases professionals and community stakeholders says fear of COVID-19's spread is no excuse to stop people from joining police brutality protests in cities across America.
Instead, it supports the anti-racist demonstrations and suggests ways that demonstrators can limit their risk of infection.
"We are witnessing continuing demonstrations in response to ongoing, pervasive and lethal institutional racism set off by the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, among many other black lives taken by police," the authors of the letter wrote.
The authors called racism and white supremacy "a lethal public health issue that predates and contributes to COVID-19."
When it comes to the ongoing demonstrations, they said "as public health advocates, we do not condemn these gatherings as risky for COVID-19 transmission. We support them as vital to the national public health and to the threatened health specifically of black people in the United States."
The professionals offer this guidance:
- Support the right to protest.
- Don't stop protests as an excuse for maintaining public health.
- Call for protesters to not be arrested or put in jails or police vans.
- Oppose the use of tear gas, smoke or other respiratory irritants.
- Call for police to maintain distance from protesters and wear masks.
- Reject messages that face masks are for concealment and support them as protective of the public's health.
- Prepare for more infections in the days after a protest.
The letter also offered tips on protesting safely:
- Use of face masks.
- Keep at least 6 feet between protesters, where possible.
- Demonstrate with one group, rather than intermingling with many groups.
- Stay home when sick.
People planning demonstrations should:
- Provide masks, hand-washing stations or hand sanitizer.
- Provide eye protection, like face shields or goggles.
- Bring wrapped, single-serving food containers or drinks.
- Provide chalk to encourage distancing between protesters.
- Supply ropes that can be knotted at 6-foot intervals, to maintain spacing.
- Donate to bail funds.
"These are strategies for harm reduction. It is our sincere hope that all participants will be able to follow these suggestions for safer public demonstrations, assisted by allies where possible and necessary, but we recognize that this may not always be the case," the letter stated.
"Even so, we continue to support demonstrators who are tackling the paramount public health problem of pervasive racism," they wrote.
For more on COVID-19, head to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
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