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6 COVID-19 Precautions You Can Take While Protesting

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In the wake of more murders of Black people by the police, protesters have risen up across the United States, fighting police brutality and the white supremacist institutions that continue to cost black and brown lives.

The frontlines: As protesters exercise their constitutional right to disrupt a discriminatory system, the COVID-19 pandemic is still playing out. Those who are out protesting are coming into contact with a higher exposure risk for infection, especially people of color who are disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.

An expert’s take: It’s no coincidence that renewed protests against police brutality and the COVID-19 pandemic are happening side-by-side. According to Nicolette Louissaint, Ph.D., executive director and president of Healthcare Ready, protesting during the pandemic is not an either/or equation. It must be both.

“The basis of the health disparities that we have been navigating in the public health and emergency management space for decades is racism,” Louissaint told The Mighty, adding:

It’s not enough to just say we have to wait until the pandemic is done. We are in a world where we are dealing with uprisings. We’re dealing with an economic crisis. We’re dealing with a pandemic, and we’re at the cusp of hurricane season. Those are all very important to our well-being, our safety and our stability. And we can’t choose when we focus on one versus the other. They are all important.

How to protest during COVID-19: The biggest COVID-19 risk during a protest is your proximity to other people — it’s nearly impossible to stay 6 feet apart from each other. Here are some ways you can increase your safety for you, those around you and your loved ones.

1. Wear a Mask While Protesting

On the most basic level, wear a mask when you’re protesting. Research suggests that masks are one of the most effective ways (along with social distancing) to reduce the spread of the coronavirus. Wearing a mask while protesting will help keep respiratory droplets contained (especially if you’re chanting) and protect those around you. Louissaint added some other precautions you can take in alignment with public health guidance:

  • Carry hand sanitizer
  • Wash your hands as much as possible
  • Avoid touching your face
  • Minimize contact with others where possible

2. Take Precautions When You Get Home

When you get home from a protest, take extra care before you enter your house. Louissaint said to treat your return like a frontline worker would when they return home to reduce your COVID-19 risk. And keep this routine up every time you get back from a protest. Before you do anything else or come into contact with family members:

  • Wash your hands
  • Remove your mask and clothing
  • Put that clothing in an isolated bag
  • Take a shower and wash your face and hands thoroughly
  • If your face mask is reusable, make sure it’s washed before wearing again

3. Get Tested If You Can

Many cities have now set up COVID-19 testing sites. In some cities, mayors are encouraging protesters to take advantage of free testing sites to help monitor your health, whether you have symptoms or not. However, COVID-19 testing won’t be accessible or affordable everywhere, so do a little research into the following:

  • Some cities have closed down COVID-19 testing sites due to the protests
  • Continued testing shortages may mean only people with symptoms can get tested

4. Monitor for COVID-19 Symptoms

Regardless of whether you can get a COVID-19 test or not, Louissaint said to keep an eye on your symptoms. If you notice any of the hallmark COVID-19 symptoms — like a fever, sore throat, cough or shortness of breath — take precautions to limit your exposure to other people in your household where possible. These resources may help:

5. Lobby Against Police Use of Chemical Irritants

Louissaint explained it’s too early to tell how police crowd control tactics like tear gas and pepper spray will impact the spread of COVID-19. However, if you’re exposed to either of these, you’ll need to remove your mask ito breathe. You can take precautions during the protest if police use chemical irritants:

  • Wear goggles to protect your eyes (even swimming goggles) and don’t wear contacts
  • Tear gas burns on the skin, so bring or wear a long-sleeve shirt
  • Pack a few water bottles or saline solution in case you need to rinse your eyes out (more info here)
  • Reports also indicate a lack of social distancing when protesters are arrested and held in jail (The Bail Project is just one organization that can help)

6. Protect the Right to Protest

Some government officials may want to use COVID-19 and its risk as a reason to shut down the protests happening nationwide. However, racism is a public health issue: Police brutality and the disproportionate effect of COVID-19 on the Black community are symptoms of the same systemic oppression, discrimination and bias this country was built on.

We do need to make sure that we aren’t taking the either/or approach and that we are giving people the guidance to be able to protest and demonstrate and express their rights. — Nicolette Louissaint, Ph.D., executive director/president of Healthcare Ready

More helpful thinking: For more on how you can support protesters and Black lives, whether you head out in person or not, check out the following Mighty stories:

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Header image via Sarah Schuster/The Mighty

Originally published: June 3, 2020
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