1. Many people have asked me whether the ongoing Black Lives Matter protests around the country pose a risk of increasing coronavirus spread.
As a scientist, I acknowledge that they may.
As a citizen, I wholeheartedly support the protests nonetheless.
2. While the spread of COVID seems to be much less of an issue outdoors (by 20- to 500-fold according to some estimates), and while masks appear to help considerably, crowded conditions are always concerning—and singing, shouting, etc. create large clouds of respiratory droplets.
3. Police tactics, from tear gas to pepper spray to kettling to incarceration of demonstrators, exacerbate matters substantially.
Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan has the right idea in suspending the use of tear gas for the coming month.
4. Especially in areas without aggressive police responses, I do not expect a greater burst of COVID transmission due to protest than due to reopening activity, for example, though as with everything in science I could end up being wrong about this. We will know soon enough.
5. That's the science. Now the ethical side of things. I am not merely a scientist. I am a human being, and a citizen. Peaceful protest is a fundamental right and even responsibility of all Americans. No cause is more pressing than the racial disparities we face in America today.
6. The fact that millions are taking to the streets in all 50 states, despite the personal risk of harm, speaks volumes. Change is long overdue and bringing about this change is a public health necessity and a human justice issue as well. Thank you to those taking a stand.
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