Answering questions about protests and COVID-19

In recent days, community members joined protests locally and across the country in response to the death of George Floyd and so many Black lives that have been taken through senseless, violent and racist acts. This racism and hate comes on top of the stress, burden and illness being inequitably experienced by Black, Indigenous, Latinx and other people of color during the pandemic, the result of centuries of systemic racism. 

These sentiments are felt deeply across our Public Health leaders:

As Patty Hayes, Director of Public Health – Seattle & King County said,

“The actions of these police officers are unconscionable and so blatantly racist, the outrage is justified. I stand with our communities of color, our neighbors and my friends who continue to experience these atrocities and unbelievable trauma.  We can’t let COVID-19 distract us from our resolve. Let us join together in King County and show how it is possible to break down the historical institutional racism that affects our communities every day.”

Derrick Wheeler-Smith, Director, Zero Youth Detention, Public Health – Seattle & King County said,

“We continue to witness events that don’t communicate a value for black life. The local and national outcry we are witnessing around the value of black life is an unbridled statement of outrage that demands equality, equitable justice, and the right to live free of constraints. These sentiments are felt deeply and we want everyone here in King County to know we see you and we hear you. We stand against racism, against hatred, and against the violent acts inflicted on your black and brown bodies.”

Dr. Jeff Duchin, Health Officer, Public Health – Seattle & King County said:

“As a public health professional and as a privileged, white male community member, the most recent episodes of deadly violence against unarmed Black men are yet another revolting and stark reminder of the pervasive structural and institutional racism embedded in our society.  I call on my colleagues and community members in positions of privilege to speak out and act more effectively against structural racism and injustice and to work together to provide equity, opportunity and justice for Black Americans and for other members of our community currently denied these basic rights, including the right to health.”

And Executive Constantine said,

“The deep-seated racial bias woven through virtually every institution in our society will take an extraordinary, united, sustained toil to extract and destroy.”

We understand the difficult choices that people were faced with this past weekend. Many in our community grappled with attending protests to stand up against these injustices while also wanting to keep our community safe from further spread of COVID-19.

For people who have attended protests or large gatherings, we’ve provided some answers to questions about the protests and the spread of COVID-19.

Q: If people chose to attend a protest, are there steps to take to help lower the risk of transmission of COVID-19 in our community?

A: Outdoor gatherings are lower risk than indoor gatherings. The larger the gathering, and the longer you’re there, the higher the risk of catching or spreading COVID-19.

People who have been at group gatherings should monitor their health for 14 days afterwards. Anyone who develops symptoms of COVID-19 should get tested right away, whether they’ve been at a protest or not.

Remember that physical distancing and other measures to slow the spread of COVID-19 are not all-or-nothing – even if you attended large group gatherings, it’s just as important that you continue to stay home whenever possible, remain at least 6 feet away from others and wear a face covering when in public, wash your hands, and avoid touching your face.

Q: Do people who have attended protests need to get tested for COVID-19?

A: If you currently don’t have any symptoms, you do not need to get tested right now. However, if you develop even mild symptoms such as a cough, congestion or runny nose, you should contact your health provider to help evaluate symptoms and need for testing. There are numerous low-barrier testing sites for people who cannot access testing through their regular health care provider. 

Anyone who has been in contact with someone with COVID-19 should also be tested. 

If you’re having trouble accessing COVID-19 testing, or have other medical questions related to COVID-19, call our info line at: 206-477-3977.

Q: During protests, what should I consider about how to protect myself and our community?

  • Do not attend any gatherings or protests if you are ill or have symptoms of COVID-19. And, remember that COVID-19 can spread from people who do not have symptoms as well as from those who do.
  • Wear a cloth mask or face covering. This helps protects those around you, and others wear face coverings to help protect you.
  • Stay 6 feet or more away from others.
  • Carry hand sanitizer and use it often.
  • Avoid touching objects and surfaces that others have touched.
  • Do your best to avoid situations where people are shouting or singing, as these activities can spread more virus into the air.

Q: What are the ways to reduce risk of exposure when traveling to an event?

A: Public Health continues to recommend that people stay home as much as possible. If you must go out, walking, biking, or driving alone in a personal vehicle are the best travel options to reduce risk of COVID-19. However, these options are not available to everyone. If you need to drive multiple people in a private vehicle, here are tips to help reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission. If you’re using public transportation, remember to wear a face covering, enter through the back door, maintain 6-feet of distance between yourself and other passengers, and reserve the front for passengers in need of priority seating.

Q: Will these protests affect King County plans to begin safely reopening, as announced on Friday?

A: No. As Executive Constantine announced, Public Health is planning to submit an application to the State to reopen to a modified Phase I. We will continue to closely monitor disease trends in the coming weeks to determine whether we can continue to move forward safely with reopening.

Q: How do we collectively support emotional health in this difficult time?

A: This is an extremely difficult time for many, and may place a particular burden on Black people in our community. Tending to the emotional and mental health needs of your community and yourself are an important part of public health, especially now. Witnessing this trauma repeatedly effects mental health, especially for communities of color. Check in on friends, family and community, as well as checking in with yourself. The Washington Counselors of Color Network lists therapists of color in Washington state. Take a look at this blog post for more mental and emotional health resources.

Originally published on June 1, 2020.