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US Protests Could Bring Coronavirus Surge 


A police officer sprays protesters during a march against the death in Minneapolis police custody of George Floyd, in the Brooklyn borough of New York City, May 30, 2020.

U.S. health officials are warning there could be a new surge in coronavirus cases following the protests of the death of George Floyd, the African American man who died after a police officer in Minneapolis pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes as Floyd lay on the ground.

Protesters have been seen, masked and unmasked, at demonstrations around the U.S. in recent days. Social distancing is hard to observe in normal conditions but is almost impossible during a protest.

“I will continue to stress, because it seems like a lifetime ago: We are still in the middle of a pandemic . . . We still have hospitals on the verge of being overrun with COVID-19,” Minnesota Governor Tim Walz told the Associated Press.

FILE - Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms.
FILE - Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms.

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms noted that the pandemic is also affecting racial minorities at a higher rate.

“There is still a pandemic in America that’s killing black and brown people at higher numbers,” she said, noting that anyone who was at a protest this weekend in Atlanta should plan to be tested for COVID-19.

Many protesters expressed their concern about the virus, but said they still felt it was necessary to make their concerns about police brutality and racism heard.

“I'm also concerned for my safety as well, so I wear my mask, trying to keep a safe distance from a bunch of different people. And I'm also a Black woman who has asthma, so I am definitely in the reach of COVID which has been killing black people at a disproporionate rate as well," Diedre O'Brien, a protester in Washington, D.C., told VOA.

“But I do feel like it's important for me to be out here to make my presence known."

With more than 1.7 million COVID-19 infections, the U.S. has more cases than anyplace else in the world. There have been more than 100,000 COVID-19 deaths in the U.S.

Racial breakdowns of COVID data in the United States remain incomplete, but recent studies indicate that Black Americans are dying from the virus at a higher rate than their white counterparts.

Data from the COVID tracking project shows that while Black Americans account for 13% of the U.S. population, they account for 25% of COVID deaths in the country.

APM research lab reports that, according to the latest data, the mortality rate for Black Americans is 2.4 times higher than that of White Americans.

Demonstrators gather to protest the killing of George Floyd on May 30, 2020 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Demonstrators gather to protest the killing of George Floyd on May 30, 2020 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Protests in the United States coincide with wider easing of social distancing restrictions. Many Americans are expected to attend church services for the first time in weeks on Sunday, and access to public beaches, salons, and outdoor seating at restaurants is increasing.

In France, demonstrations against dire working conditions for those in the country illegally also broke a ban on large gatherings and was dispersed by tear gas.

Tear gas has also been used against protests in Hong Kong in recent days, where the semiautonomous city is fighting against a new order which would give China more authority.

The number of global cases continues upward with more than 6 million cases. Brazil follows the U.S. with nearly 500,000 cases. Health officials say Latin America is the likely next hotspot for coronavirus cases.

Human’s relationship with the coronavirus “might turn out to be a lifelong relationship,” Mark Woolhouse, a professor of infectious disease epidemiology at the University of Edinburgh, told Britain’s Guardian newspaper. He said that without a vaccine and given the improbability of maintaining social distancing that “a second wave really is a clear and present danger.”

Jason Patinkin contributed to this report.