Crowds and COVID: East Bay doctor encourages protesters to be tested

by: Amy Larson | KRON

OAKLAND, Calif. (KRON) — Are crowds OK again despite COVID-19? There was a lot of chatter on Twitter about that question over the weekend during Juneteenth celebrations, George Floyd marches, and other large public events held around the Bay Area. The coronavirus hasn’t vanished overnight, especially without a vaccine available yet.

For people who are passionate about attending marches and rallies during a historic moment for empowering Black communities in America, two steps are essential for protecting one’s health, East Bay doctor Kim Nguyen told KRON4.

First, always wear a mask to protect yourself from becoming infected or spreading it to someone else, she said. Second, go to a COVID-19 testing site to be tested. The best time to receive a test for the most accurate results is five days after you have been in a crowd, said Nguyen, an associate medical director at LifeLong Medical Care.

(June 19, 2020 / Getty Images)

Balancing the importance of containing the pandemic and fighting racism is a delicate matter. Both the virus and police brutality have disproportionately claimed Black and Latino lives.

“We want to be in solidarity with people who are taking those risks to go outside and protest. If there is any reason to ignore those public health risks, this is the biggest one. So we want to make sure the people who are standing up for those issues are getting the care that they need. We know that communities of color are already at higher risk for complications with COVID, so we want to make sure we practice as much testing and care as possible,” Nguyen said.

How widespread is COVID-19 in the Bay Area? When will crowds be safe again? Those questions are just as hard for health experts to answer now as they were when the pandemic began, Nguyen said.

“Because things are constantly changing. The transition now with reopening, and many public gatherings, it’s hard to tell that effects of that until we get more data,” she said.

Activists, some wearing face coverings as a precautionary measure against COVID-19, attend a Black Lives Matter protest. (Getty Images)

“It’s also variable from place to place. We are seeing some places with fewer incidents, and many places where the hospitalization rates are still rising. And of course, we only know the prevalence if we are testing widely,” Nguyen said.

Michael Osterholm, a prominent epidemiologist, told the New York Times that the virus doesn’t spread in waves. A more accurate metaphor is thinking of COVID-19 as one continuous “forest fire,” he said.

The Times wrote Monday, “The coronavirus keeps spreading. The recent surge in new cases isn’t simply about the nationwide growth in testing. The percentage of positive tests has also been rising in recent days, to 5.3 percent on Sunday, from 4.4 percent a week earlier. In some places with recent increases … like California … the number of confirmed cases has been rising almost continually since March.”

For people without health insurance, LifeLong Medical Care offers free COVID testing at sites throughout the East Bay. Alameda County formed a Testing Task Force to coordinate testing sites and help residents find nearby locations at .

Original Article