How to stay healthy while protesting in a pandemic

Posted at 7:59 AM, Jun 02, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-02 19:44:47-04

LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) — After months of quarantining and slow openings of cities mandating CDC guidelines still be followed, the images from protests in Lexington and across the country with protesters shoulder to shoulder and to hug one another are causing many to scratch their heads.

How does America protest during a pandemic?

NBC Medical Correspondent Dr. John Torres says protesters are putting themselves in harm's way.

"This is a huge risk whether you wear a mask or not," said Dr. Torres. "Even though it does give you a little bit of protection, it doesn't give you full protection."

The Lexington-Fayette County Health Department weighed in explaining the guidelines do not change:

"Precautions for reducing risk in public are the same, regardless of the situation: remain six feet apart, wash hands or have hand sanitizer available, wear masks to protect others, cough and sneeze into your sleeve, and don't go out if you are sick."

University of Kentucky Healthcare Infectious Disease Specialist Dr. Derek Forster explained, "It's really important to protect not just yourself but other people, especially when we're in close contact with them. We talked about social distancing, that becomes really difficult to do when we're, you know, trying to participate in a peaceful protest. But we go try to do it as best we can. But again, wearing that face mask or face covering is really important and can help reduce that risk."

Baptist Health Infectious Disease Specialist Dr. Mark Dougherty also weighed in.

"I just can't imagine a worse timing for huge gatherings with angry people yelling in each other's faces and, you know, a lot of the protesters have been wearing masks, which is, which is great. And people certainly have a right to protest, and I think should be protesting, but we have to, we just have to be careful and use common sense you know we can't be getting up in each other's faces and having our droplets spread all over other people that's not fair to anyone," explained Dr. Dougherty. "And it may not be the younger protesters that end up dying from coronavirus or becoming permanently disabled from it, but maybe their grandparents or their aunts and uncles are their parents."

Mayors such as Atlanta's Keisha Lance Bottoms said protesters likely need a COVID-19 test.

"There is still a pandemic in America that's killing black and brown people at higher numbers," Bottoms said.

LEX 18 reached out to Lexington Mayor Linda Gorton to see if she had recommendations for those who have been at protests. She has not returned the request for comment.

Dr. Forster made clear he is not discouraging protesting.

"I would never advise anybody not to go in to participate in that type of, you know, protest. I think those are important, doing that peacefully that's really important to people and really important to really the social justice of our community. I would never say, don't do that. I would just say, Be cautious about you doing that, take the steps needed to decrease the risk."

He said he hopes that Kentuckians continue to take the coronavirus seriously, "We've done well up to this point from a state perspective. You know, we've had a lesser impact than we thought we would, which is great, right, that means that things that we've done are effective. But just because the weather's warm, just because you know we don't think of flu circulating at this time of season. That doesn't mean that won't be the case for COVID-19."