Harvard experts worry over infections at protests

Harvard public health experts worried that COVID-19 infections could spike in communities from large, nationwide protests seeking to end white-on-black brutality like the deadly arrest of George Floyd by a white Minneapolis police officer (June 3).

Video Transcript

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WILLIAM HANAGE: There are likely to be spikes and unpredictable flare-ups following these protests. As I say, it's not going to be clear whether they occurred at the protest or through other things which are connected with it-- traveling to it, people being arrested, detained, and so on. And you know, I think that there's no question but that there will be a consequence.

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So you're not necessarily going to immediately know because of the fact that, as we were saying, there isn't-- we don't actually have good population surveillance anywhere. So just-- I mean, it's going to be playing catchup on this. We're not going to notice the consequences until people are falling ill and getting counted in a few weeks or so. It may be that you won't see the consequences until community transmission leads to a burst of infections in care homes or something like that, which will be a few weeks away.

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WILLIAM HANAGE: The virus appears to have a-- to transmit in particular from a subset of individuals. About 20% of people caused about 80% of the infections. Now, that produces substantial stochasticity or randomness into what's going on. And so it's very hard to say definitively, oh, this protest is going to cause a large spike in cases, although I agree with Barry that if you were to do very, very good testing virtually everywhere, you would see that they were followed by some kind of increase within the community.

BARRY BLOOM: Most worrisome for me in the videos we've seen in the various protests have been that in almost no cases were the police or National Guard wearing masks. Some of them had plastic shields, mostly over their helmets. So I had real concern for them, standing next to one another in straight lines.

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