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Protest Leaders Urge Regular COVID Tests To Minimize Spread At Demonstrations

Rashanna Lee holds up her hand and shouts to direct demonstrators on a march through the city of San Diego, June 4, 2020.
Tarryn Mento
Rashanna Lee holds up her hand and shouts to direct demonstrators on a march through the city of San Diego, June 4, 2020.

The crowd at a recent protest calling to defund school police should have included Rashanna Lee, but the 23-year-old didn’t participate because she was still waiting on her COVID-19 test results. Lee, a familiar face attending and leading social justice protests in San Diego, wasn't symptomatic but is committed to regular tests to reduce the risk of spreading the illness at demonstrations and to set an example for other participants.

“If cases are skyrocketing, we don’t want it to be, 'Hey, it’s because of us,'" said the women's studies graduate student. "We want to point to the people that are enjoying their brunches and going out drinking with friends and not wearing masks.”

A recently published working paper involving local researchers found no evidence that Black Lives Matter protests across the U.S. led to a surge in COVID cases, and Lee is hoping to keep it that way.

Lee said she remains at home and skips demonstrations until results confirm she's negative for the virus. She's been tested twice and plans to continue doing so at least every other week. She and other organizers have promoted the get-tested message from the @SDProtest Twitter handle to more than 5,000 followers.

San Diego County officials have linked an increasing number of outbreaks to bars and restaurants and said only 29 people who tested positive for the virus told contact tracers that they had recently attended a protest. A June study released by the National Bureau of Economic Research found hundreds of protests that occurred following the death of George Floyd did not cause cases to skyrocket more than three weeks after they began.

Joseph Sabia, director of the Center for Health Economics and Policy Studies at San Diego State University and an author on the report, said researchers analyzed information on demonstrations in large cities along with federal data on COVID cases in those communities.

"We want to be clear that we’re not arguing that COVID-19 couldn’t be spread among protesters, what we’re suggesting is that even if that is occurring, it’s not leading to net increases in COVID-19 case growth in those communities where it’s happening," Sabia said.

He said Arizona's Maricopa County, where Phoenix is located, was one exception, but that the state was already experiencing a growth in cases around the time the demonstrations began.

Sabia attributed the last of case surge to mask-wearing as well as the young age of demonstrators because they often suffer fewer complications from the virus and may be less likely to get tested. The researchers also looked at anonymous cell phone data to evaluate social distancing and found the protests prompted non-participants to stay home.

The paper still needs to go through a peer review.

Protest Leaders Urge Regular COVID Tests To Minimize Spread At Demonstrations
Listen to this story by Tarryn Mento.