Doctors worry large protests could cause spike in COVID-19 cases

Posted at 3:33 PM, Jun 02, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-02 21:38:09-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — Across the country and here in San Diego County, large groups of people have taken to the streets to protest over the death of George Floyd and racial injustices.

The mass gatherings have health professionals concerned that we could see another spike in COVID-19 cases.

"While we understand why they’re congregating and the anger that’s out there right now, the unfortunate consequences are probably going to be that there will be more people infected and more people coming to our hospital systems," said Dr. David Pride, an infectious disease specialist and the director of Molecular Microbiology at UC San Diego Health. "Sometimes, passion sort of overtakes being cognizant of the fact that this is a global pandemic."

That passion has been very evident in San Diego as hundreds of protesters filled many streets for several days.

"When we see that people are not social distancing, we get concerned that we’re going to see spikes," said Pride.

Whether you are a protester, an officer, or a member of the press covering the demonstrations, COVID-19 remains a problem for everyone.

Social distancing was nonexistent at the protests across the county, and while many people did have on masks, others did not. To add to the risk, officers also deployed tear gas, causing some demonstrators to cough into the crowds.

“The idea that some of them are now coughing, that’s concerning,” said Pride. “The easiest way to spread the virus is through respiratory and oral droplets. There could be asymptomatic people in these crowds, spreading the virus to a lot of people who are vulnerable, and only time will tell what the effects of this are for the San Diego area.”

The public gatherings have been some of the largest we’ve seen in a while, in addition to recent protests to stay-at-home orders.

Pride said he and other health professionals are not only concerned about the demonstration, but also about the loosening of restrictions and reopening.

“We’re starting to notice differences in different parts of San Diego County. Certain parts are hotbeds for disease right now, and as we reopen and people start to mix from all different parts of San Diego, everyone is at risk,” he said. “This disease is not going anywhere, it’s going to be with us until there’s a proper vaccination.”

Pride said UCSD Health has been preparing to increase the number of daily COVID-19 tests.

“Right now, we’re testing somewhere around 800 people a day, and we’re gearing up to maybe even triple that if we can,” he said.

Pride said it would take about a week or two to understand the consequences of the latest demonstrations. He does expect the hospitalization rate to increase.

In the meantime, he said if you are not staying at home, the best thing you can continue to do while out in public is social distance and always wear a facial covering.

“In the absence of a vaccine, two things that all of us can do are social distance as best we can and make certain we have a strict adherence to a masking policy,” he said.