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What is the potential coronavirus risk of mass protests?

Protesters continue past Pike Place Market during the #SeattleJusticeForGeorgeFloyd march on Saturday, June 6, 2020, in Seattle, Washington. (Amanda Snyder/The Seattle Times via AP)

For months, the public was warned about avoiding large gatherings due to coronavirus and now mass protests are taking place across the country. What’s the risk of so many people being packed so close together outside? Tacoma MD Dr. Gordon Cohen joined Seattle’s Morning News to discuss.

“So the fact of the matter is people are wearing face masks … which is good, but there are going to be outbreaks,” Cohen said. “A local scientist at the Fred Hutch Cancer Research Institute wrote on Twitter … that each day of protests would result in about 3,000 new cases of coronavirus and about 50 to 500 deaths.”

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“He also noted that given the racial disparities so far in the pandemic, that those deaths and cases would disproportionately occur among black people. So he felt that the societal benefit of the continued protests had to be weighed against the substantial potential impact,” he added.

So what’s is Cohen’s advice to people who are deciding if they should attend a protest or not?

“That’s a tough question to answer, because it is a balance. There’s the social issues that are important that need to be addressed, but there’s also the health and medical issues that are important and need to be addressed,” he said.

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“When you talk to me, you’re talking to me as a physician, and I worry about the public health consequences,” he added. “So I’m not gonna tell people that they shouldn’t be heard and that they shouldn’t protest because that’s their right. And if they feel they need to, then they should do it. On the other hand, as a physician who worries about public health, people have to do the best they can in those circumstances to try to be careful.”

Listen to Seattle’s Morning News weekday mornings from 5 – 9 a.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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