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I-TEAM: Could protesting lead to a second wave of COVID-19 in our area?

On one hand, there is a public health crisis. On the other hand, there is a social crisis. Protestors want their voices to be heard, but they could be risking their health and the health of others while exercising their First Amendment rights. (Source: WRDW)
On one hand, there is a public health crisis. On the other hand, there is a social crisis. Protestors want their voices to be heard, but they could be risking their health and the health of others while exercising their First Amendment rights. (Source: WRDW)(WRDW)
Published: Jun. 1, 2020 at 4:38 PM EDT
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Monday, June 1, 2020

News 12 at 6 o'clock/NBC at 7

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) -- Data shows COVID-19 cases are on the rise again in Georgia after initially decreasing in mid-May. Health experts are concerned about the large gatherings and protests right now could lead to an even bigger spike of the virus.

On one hand, there is a public health crisis. On the other hand, there is a social crisis. Protesters want their voices to be heard, but they could be risking their health and the health of others while exercising their First Amendment rights.

DIG DEEPER IN THIS STORY:

A group of protesters marched close together on Wrightsboro Road. An even bigger crowd gathered on Washington Road. Protesters stood close together at the Lady A Amphitheater. This historic event has unfolded during another historic event: the COVID-19 pandemic.

“That certainly creates a risk. The large amount of people coming in contact with large numbers of people is certainly a risk that does concern me," said Dr. Phil Coule, chief medical officer at Augusta University.

He worries protests could spark the spread of COVID-19 among those already affected the most by the disease.

“Communities of color have been disproportionately affected by this disease," Coule said. "We know that in our testing here locally it appears COVID-19 effects black and minority populations more.”

A lot more.

Now, they could face an even greater risk.

“People need to protest but doing that in a responsible manner is very difficult," Coule said.

Large gatherings, people standing close together, and shouting greatly increase the spread of COVID-19.

“A large crowd is definitely worst-case scenario right now, but a large crowd of people shouting—when you shout you express more droplets than in normal conversations," Coule explained.

Coule warned us about droplets months ago. The virus is spread from one person to another person through droplets.

“By wearing face coverings or masks that reduces that droplet expression," Coule said. "If someone is shouting and doing so with a mask on, may mean they would expose fewer people or less people keeping that six-foot distance would certainly reduce risk.”

It will take weeks before health officials see any possible impact from the large gatherings of protestors.

“I do think if we have a second wave, to be careful not to blame it on events. It could be related or it could be that we were already having an uptick that occurred prior to these incidents," Coule said.

There is some good news while people are protesting: COVID-19 does not like sun, heat, or humidity. Augusta has been all of that the last few days as protesters marched outdoors.

Copyright 2020 WRDW/WAGT. All rights reserved.

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