The Rev. Dr. Maria Evans is serving as the Interim Rector at Christ Church in Rolla. She is also a pathologist, board certified in Anatomic and Clinical Pathology, a laboratory medical director, and has served on hospital infection control committees for over 30 years.
During the coronavirus outbreak, The Rev. Dr. Maria is offering her expertise to help us understand and make our way through this unprecedented experience. If you have a question you'd like to ask The Rev. Dr. Maria, send an email to email@example.com.
Are all the protests going to cause a spike in coronavirus cases?
It's certainly possible...and at the same time, it's more complicated to calculate risks of "outdoor transmission" compared to "indoor transmission." So I'm going to give a confident "perhaps, perhaps not" as an answer to that question!
Since the outbreak started in China during the winter, when most people were indoors, and started here towards the end of winter, we understand a great deal about how COVID can be transmitted in indoor spaces where air circulation is limited. OTOH, we're just starting to get a handle on what is more risky or less risky outdoors.
Here's what we know:
1. Outdoors, where there is a lot of air circulation, with social distancing and mask wearing where social distancing can't fully be maintained, the risk is low.
2. Large crowds, however, are a known vector for spread.
It's a little early to analyze what kind of infection rate we are seeing in the wake of the George Floyd protests, but most experts expect a spike.
On the other hand, we also know systemic racism is also a health risk on many fronts, and statistically difficult to calculate because it infects so insidiously, whether it's violent death, death by police altercation, disparity in health care, etc. Interestingly, even many experts who are strongly predicting a spike in cases are also qualifying that by talking about the health risks of racism as a competing source of morbidity and mortality.
In the spirit of full transparency, I recently attended a protest. That said, I paid close attention to the measures of how the organizers planned for safety, and would have been making my exit in a heartbeat had those instructions (keeping physical distance, wearing masks, discouraging yelling) been ignored. I weighed the scientific data against my growing sense of moral and spiritual imperative about the health risks of racism, which affect more people than COVID, and decided I was willing to take a one-time risk. I intend to spend the next several days more sequestered than usual as a consequence of my action, knowing rights come with responsibilities.
The good news is we know some behaviors at protests are riskier than others, and some are less risky. If you choose to protest, here are some considerations:
1. Wear a mask.
2. The more widely a group can spread outdoors, the lower the chance of transmitting viruses. Try to maintain six feet of physical distance and wear a mask to help prevent the spread of droplets during those times you can't.
3. Yelling and loud voices emit more virus in an infected person. Consider the use of noisemakers instead.
4. Use of tear gas, smoke, etc. will increase the number of people coughing and the number of droplets being spread. It's not cowardice to get out before the trouble starts.
5. Getting arrested increases your chance of being infected because police transport vehicles, jails, and other detention facilities are closed spaces with comparatively little air circulation.
6. Consider self-isolation for 14 days after protesting.
As Christians, we all hear God's call in a variety of ways, and not everyone hears the same call. If that call and your own sense of moral imperative is to protest, do what you can to stay safe and exercise responsibility before, during, and after the protest.
The Rev. Dr. Maria Evans
who also doubles as
Maria L. Evans, MD, FCAP, FASCP
This material is not a substitute for professional medical advice or treatment. The Episcopal Church and its affiliates do not provide any healthcare services and, therefore, cannot guarantee any results or outcomes. Always seek the advice of a healthcare professional with any questions about your personal healthcare, including diet and exercise.