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MONDAY, June 1, 2020 (HealthDay News) -- Health professionals across the country are concerned that ongoing protests against police brutality in American cities could spark a spate of new COVID-19 infections, the New York Times reported.
Although many protesters are wearing masks, officials worry that the close proximity of thousands of people increases the risk for new infections.
Political leaders have pleaded with protesters to wear masks and maintain social distancing, the paper reported.
In Los Angeles, demonstrations have also caused virus test sites to close, and Mayor Eric Garcetti voiced concern the protests could become "super-spreader events."
Larry Hogan, the Republican governor of Maryland, is also concerned new cases could crop up in the next two weeks, and Atlanta mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms urged protesters "to go get a COVID test this week," the Times noted.
Some experts said they were somewhat reassured because the protests were held outside.
"The outdoor air dilutes the virus and reduces the infectious dose that might be out there, and if there are breezes blowing, that further dilutes the virus in the air," Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University, told the Times. "There was literally a lot of running around, which means they're exhaling more profoundly, but also passing each other very quickly," he said.
But others were more concerned.
"Yes, the protests are outside, but they are all really close to each other, and in those cases, being outside doesn't protect you nearly as much," Dr. Howard Markel, a medical historian, told the paper. "Public gatherings are public gatherings -- it doesn't matter what you're protesting or cheering. That's one reason we're not having large baseball games and may not have college football this fall."
Over half of coronavirus infections come from people who don't have symptoms, and who don't yet know they are sick, Dr. Ashish Jha, a professor and director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, told the Times.
So, arresting, transporting and jailing protesters can also increase the spread of the virus, experts said.
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