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Virologist: Amid fears of virus, George Floyd protests ‘a public health crisis amplifying another’

Protesters in Seattle paused in front of City Hall on Monday. [Hanna Scott/KIRO Radio]

With ongoing protests in Seattle and across the United States, there are concerns that these could quickly become so-called “super-spreader” events, leading to an uptick in new COVID-19 cases.

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“I’m certainly very concerned about the the increased risk of transmission,” Columbia University virologist Dr. Angela Rasmussen told KIRO Radio’s Gee and Ursula Show. “I think it’s probably safe to say that we’re going to see an increase in cases.”

Dr. Rasmussen also pointed out that protests against racism are extremely relevant to the current COVID-19 crisis, as a virus that has disproportionately affected communities of color.

“It’s definitely an issue in terms of public health for COVID transmission, to be engaging in these types of mass gatherings and protests,” she said. “But it’s also a critical public health issue to address racism and the effects of violence that result from that.”

“This is really a public health crisis that is amplifying another public health crisis,” she added.

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That said, she said that crowds at recent protests have been conscious of wearing masks, and even providing hand sanitizer to participants.

Her larger concerns relate to arrests at these events acting as a possible catalyst for increased transmission of the virus.

“One of my biggest concerns … actually has to do with the protesters who are arrested,” Dr. Rasmussen said. “We know for a fact from the spring that prisons and jails are a very efficient environment for transmission. And I think certainly, apart from the protests, that is a major risk for these super spreader events.”

Listen to the Gee and Ursula Show weekday mornings from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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