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Don’t forget the 439,892-plus who have died from COVID-19

It’s been heartening to see so many people — of all races, of all socio-economic groups, of all ages — take to the streets throughout the Hudson Valley, the state, the country and the globe to peacefully protest systemic racism and all that it stands for in the 21 days since the May 25th death of George Floyd. Were all of those protests peaceful? No. At the onset, many were tainted by extreme violence, with criminals intent on lashing out and looting, hurting others and the cause. In the days since, however, most rallies have been calm, if not totally safe in the midst of a global health pandemic. We’d like to address that pressing topic here now, as it really is a matter of life and death.

Emotion can cause people to forget logic. And the raw emotion associated with the Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests seems to have made thousands of protesters — people who, we hope, would otherwise be concerned about catching and spreading a deadly viral disease — forget about observing basic hygiene practices to protect their health and that of those around them. 

Because although the world is calling out for justice, our first priority must remain protecting ourselves and our loved ones from the spread of COVID-19. We are still in the middle of a major health crisis here. It is irresponsible to not obey Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines and recommendations to social distance and to properly wear face coverings (that cover the mouth and nose) when out in public — especially when at events where people are yelling, shouting, chanting, rallying or singing. 

During a pandemic, getting in close proximity to other people can be dangerous. One proven way the coronavirus can spread is through viral respiratory droplets, which can be inhaled in shared air space with another person, or can land on surfaces that are then touched by a person who then touches his or her mouth, nose, eyes, etc. And we’ve all read or heard about those studies where scientists and/or doctors state that even 6 feet of distance is likely not enough to prevent the spread of COVID-19. 

It takes up to two weeks for symptoms of the coronavirus to show. Experts expect the impact of so many protests in so many locations throughout the nation — throughout the world — will likely take a couple of weeks before they, too, make themselves known. But Governor Andrew Cuomo is so concerned that protesters may be exposing themselves to COVID-19 that he’s advised anyone who is at a protest to get tested, ASAP. He said as much at his press conference earlier this month.

“If you were at a protest, go get a test, please,” he implored. “The protesters have a civic duty here also. Be responsible. Get a test.”

CDC Director Robert R. Redfield agrees demonstrators should get tested, and told Congress on June 4 that he fears his agency’s message that people must continue taking safety precautions to avoid getting ill is getting lost, especially as so many are attending protests.

“There is a potential, unfortunately, for this to be a seeding event,” Redfield said. 

Protesters should get tested for COVID-19 if possible five to seven days after protesting, which is the median incubation period for the virus. Those who get back negative test results but may still be experiencing some symptoms are advised to practice social distancing with those they live with for two weeks, just in case their results are false negative, as they often can be. Likewise, protesters who can’t get tested right away are also advised to social distance at home. That’s especially important if house-mates are vulnerable, older than 50, have chronic health conditions, etc.

We’re not saying not to protest; we understand the drive to right past wrongs. Locally, we have seen dozens of protests throughout the region during the past couple of weeks — all reportedly peaceful. We applaud those who have participated in such a civil fashion and who have stood up for such vitally important issues. We hope the social justice movement continues onward, safely, without exposing people to additional danger: Disease, racism, hate — they can all be deadly.

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