As 1000’s of individuals take to the streets to protest systematic racism and police brutality within the Bay Space and nationwide, public well being officers are elevating alarms over a looming surge in coronavirus instances.
Counties are urging individuals to get examined inside at the least 5 days of attending their final protest. San Francisco opened a pop-up testing web site Friday at St. Mary’s Cathedral for demonstrators involved about their potential publicity in the course of the current days of unrest and protests, even when they aren’t displaying signs of COVID-19.
“I believe everybody in public well being is worried,” mentioned Dr. Tomás Aragón, San Francisco’s well being officer.
“The danger will depend on how many individuals within the crowd are carrying the coronavirus,” he mentioned. “If only a few persons are carrying, you’re most likely going to be effective. However we don’t know, and that’s the issue. The few individuals that may have it, they’re those you hope put on their masks.”
Over the previous week, 1000’s of individuals have spilled onto the streets to demand accountability from police departments after George Floyd, a black man, died after being restrained by Minneapolis law enforcement officials. One officer knelt on Floyd’s neck for greater than eight minutes in an episode captured on video.
Many individuals wore masks at protests in Oakland and San Francisco. However social distancing was almost not possible among the many lots. Individuals held their fists within the air, shouted Floyd’s title and chanted, “No justice, no peace, no racist police.”
Jada Cabie, 19, was among the many tons of of protesters who gathered Friday to demand justice for a 22-year-old man who was killed by Vallejo police on Tuesday. Cabie used hand sanitizer and wore a face masks, however mentioned the pandemic wasn’t going to cease her from the historic protests.
“Corona will not be going to cease us from bringing justice,” she mentioned. “I simply really feel so compelled to be part of this.”
Julie Molitor, a nurse on the emergency division at San Francisco Common Hospital, mentioned she worries concerning the lots gathering collectively due to the shortage of mattress capability on the hospital.
“All of these things I’m seeing is frightening,” she mentioned.
On Friday, not one of the 212 beds was obtainable. The hospital is over capability resulting from postponed surgical procedures and procedures that have been pushed off whereas workers ready for the coronavirus response, mentioned Brent Andrew, a spokesman for the hospital.
Earlier within the week, Gov. Gavin Newsom mentioned a surge in coronavirus optimistic instances is imminent after almost 10 days of protests.
“If you happen to’re not (involved), you’re not being attentive to the epidemiology, to the virulence of this illness,” Newsom mentioned throughout a go to Thursday to Stockton, the place he met with Mayor Michael Tubbs and enterprise homeowners to debate racism.
Nonetheless, officers mentioned, due to the incubation interval of the virus of as much as two weeks, a spike will not be obvious. Protests within the Bay Space started a couple of week in the past.
California has 125,718 optimistic coronavirus instances and 4,525 deaths. Of these, 15,025 optimistic instances and 460 deaths are within the Bay Space. San Francisco has 2,698 optimistic instances and 43 deaths, and Alameda County has 3,725 instances and 101 deaths.
New reported cases and deaths in the Bay Area have plateaued in current weeks however haven’t declined a lot.
Grant Colfax, director of the San Francisco’s Division of Public Well being, had a easy message: if individuals have been amongst crowds this week, get examined.
“The virus is similar virus, and there’s extra virus than there was earlier than,” he mentioned.
On Friday, Newsom mentioned the state has spent the previous 100 days getting ready for a resurgence of instances not essentially due to protests, however because of the reopening of the economic system. These plans have been launched final month.
“Our capability has by no means been better to fulfill the wants,” he mentioned.
Medical specialists mentioned elevated testing capability is essential in preserving observe of the virus’ unfold and expressed issues that mass demonstrations had closed some testing websites, notably in Los Angeles, where nearly half of the government-run facilities had closed down final weekend.
In Oakland, the place 1000’s of individuals have gathered each night time this week, one testing web site on the Kaiser Auditorium close to Lake Merritt was closed. Officers mentioned plans to reopen it are below method.
“With the decreased testing, which will lower the discovering of instances,” mentioned John Swartzberg, an infectious illness professional at UC Berkeley. “So it might artificially make it look like there weren’t extra instances from the protests, however we anticipate there might be. That gnaws at me a bit bit.”
General testing capability statewide continues to extend, the California Division of Public Well being mentioned Friday.
In Alameda County, officers are planning to open a cell testing web site to journey to neighborhood sizzling spots, together with in Oakland’s Fruitvale district and East Oakland, the place communities have been onerous hit by the virus.
Contra Costa, Santa Clara, Solano and San Mateo counties mentioned they aren’t planning to change their present testing plans due to the demonstrations. Contra Costa County encourages individuals to check 10 days after attending a protest.
“It will be an entire waste of time to check at or proper after the protest as a result of there can have been no time for the virus to contaminate you but,” mentioned Bela Matyas, the Solano County well being officer.
Matyas additionally mentioned the well being division is attempting to contact occasion organizers prematurely to encourage social distancing and face coverings in the course of the demonstrations.
Officers from Santa Clara and San Mateo are doing the identical.
Molitor mentioned San Francisco well being division employees may very well be extra proactive by stepping onto the entrance strains of the demonstrations and hand out face masks and flyers to remind protesters of security measures, together with social distancing.
“It’s a small metropolis, it’s a small county,” she mentioned. “I don’t perceive why we will’t.”
Swartzberg additionally expressed issues over using tear gasoline and pepper spray by police throughout demonstrations as a result of it might unfold the virus because it causes individuals to cough, rub their eyes or have runny noses.
Robert Rueca, a spokesman for the San Francisco Police Division, mentioned officers haven’t deployed pepper spray or tear gasoline throughout demonstrations regardless of seeing studies within the media that tear gasoline has been used.
“We have no idea of the supply or what the attainable irritants are to which individuals have been uncovered,” Rueca mentioned.
In Oakland, Metropolis Council members have referred to as on the Police Division to cease using tear gasoline due to the virus. Oakland police deployed tear gasoline to disperse curfew violators Monday, however kept away from curfew enforcement Tuesday and Wednesday nights.
Interim Oakland Police Chief Susan Manheimer mentioned that police resort to smoke bombs and tear gasoline solely in response to “violent disrupters” and “skilled agitators.”
“From the virus’ standpoint, I might be sitting there and saying, ‘Thanks a lot for doing that as a result of now I can infect extra individuals,’” Swartzberg mentioned. “Police have been irresponsible for utilizing pepper spray and tear gasoline.”
Chronicle workers writers Trisha Thadani and Anna Bauman contributed to this story.