Health experts supporting protests have suggestions for demonstrating during COVID-19

SEATTLE — After weeks of staying apart to prevent COVID-19, suddenly thousands of people are together in the streets.

“There’s times there can’t be gatherings, but this is a time there has to be gatherings,” Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan told police brutality protesters on Tuesday.

Durkan also reminded the crowd, "I know that I'm going to be sounding like a mom, but we are in the middle of a coronavirus pandemic."

Gov. Jay Inslee urged demonstrators to keep wearing masks.

"I'm very hopeful people will remain committed both to justice in our society, as well as survival against COVID-19. We ought to be able to do both at the same time," Inslee said Wednesday.

A letter, circulating the country and signed by more than 1,200 public health and infectious disease professionals, advocates an "anti-racist public health response" to the demonstrations.

“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 letter states.

The letter makes specific suggestions, such as demonstrating with close contacts and moving together as a group, or using ropes, knotted at 6-foot intervals to help people distance as they march.

The letter suggests supporters provide hand-washing stations and sanitizers and hand out face shields, goggles, and single-serving food and drinks.

The letter states police should not hold protesters in confined spaces and should not use tear gas, which makes the respiratory tract more susceptible to infection.

“What is being protested right now is a public health issue — racism is a public health issue,” said Christopher Bhang of King County’s Office of Equity and Social Justice.

Bhang is on the county's equity response team for COVID-19.

The county produced a video reminding people that the “decision to wear a mask is not so simple” for black men facing institutionalized racism.

“The suggestion that you should, as a public health matter, you should wear a mask into a public place as a black man is not just a simple calculus of physical health,” Bhang said.

That’s why county officials say the face-covering policy is not actually an order.

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