Officials in New York have openly fretted that the massive civil rights and anti-police protests following the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd could lead to a new coronavirus outbreak as tens of thousands packed together on city streets.
Yet, testing data released by city and state officials in recent days shows little evidence of any spike – a seemingly confounding development that experts say is attributable to a few key factors.
First, the lag in test results and COVID-19’s long incubation period means the Big Apple may not be out of the woods, yet.
“It’s too soon to tell what public health effects the protests of the last few weeks will have on New York,” said Professor Summer McGee, dean of the School of Health Sciences at the University of New Haven, in Connecticut.
“We will have a much better picture of things in another week or two because of positive tests and hospitalization lag after exposure by a few weeks.”
However, the protests were outdoors in the fresh air and the vast majority of protestors at demonstrations wore face masks or other protective coverings, two important things that scientists say helps prevent the virus’ spread.
“Most protesters I saw were wearing some type of face cloth,” McGee added. “But prolonged close proximity to others is a concern when individuals are wearing bandanas and less effective masks.”
Masks are increasingly central to efforts by public health authorities to slow the spread of the disease.
A new study out of Britain shows that even homemade cloth masks can dramatically reduce the spread of COVID-19, according to a report published by the Reuters news agency.
“Our analyses support the immediate and universal adoption of face masks by the public,” Dr. Richard Stutt, who co-led the study at the University of Cambridge, told the wire service.
He added that combining widespread mask use with social distancing and some lockdown measures could be “an acceptable way of managing the pandemic and re-opening economic activity” as scientists race to develop a vaccine for the virus.