COVID-19 concern persists as protests draw masses nationwide

Published: Jun. 1, 2020 at 3:53 PM CDT
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The numbers of people gathering together across the U.S. continues to climb as masses march and chant, seeking an end to police brutality and discrimination suffered by African Americans.

The fight for equality grows as the U.S. remains a long way from winning its fight against COVID-19.

Over the weekend in Wichita and surrounding areas, several protests were organized after last week's death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minn.

One gathering saw hundreds gather at Century II in downtown Wichita, also the site of a rally expected to draw hundreds later this week. While they don't dispute the cause, health officials in general have spent months warning against mass gatherings due to the COVID-19 threat.

Overall, Sedgwick County hasn't had any spikes to overwhelm hospitals or necessitate further restrictions, but that doesn't mean it's safe to ignore guidelines that include social distancing and wearing masks in public.

"Even though we seem to have a low prevalence currently in Sedgwick County, it's still in our communities. We're not out of the woods yet," Sedgwick County Health Director Adrienne Byrne says of COVID-19.

While at least locally, many protesters have worn masks to safeguard against the virus, it's difficult to take further preventative steps.

"It's difficult with those social gatherings to do six feet at times, just because they tend to gather more closely together, more closely together in unity," Byrne says. So, wearing mask, that is a really important and crucial thing to do."

Some organizers of recent gatherings for justice in George Floyd's death encourage and even provide masks, but noticing symptoms of COVID-19 isn't something that'll happen overnight.

"The incubation period can actually be up to 14 days, at least," Byrne points out. "It could take awhile for someone to really know."

After attending protests Saturday, Wichita City Council member Brandon Johnson tweeted that he's getting tested for COVID-19 this week and encourages others in attendance to do the same, especially because statistically, the virus is impacting African Americans at a higher rate.

For those supporting, organizing and participating in the protests health officials say its important to be mindful that COVID-19 remains a threat.

"Stay safe as people are standing up for what's right," Byrne says.

Kansas Department of Health and Environment Secretary Dr. Lee Norman expressed similar concern. He says if there are people infected with COVID-19 taking part in protests, the progress toward trying to contain the virus "will be stepping backward."

Large gatherings also could make efforts of contact tracing more difficult. Byrne says if someone at a local protest tests positive for COVID-19, the Sedgwick County Health Department would release a notice to the community, asking those in attendance to contact the health department to evaluate their risk.

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