The protests across the nation over the death of George Floyd are fueling fears in U.S. cities that the demonstrations could exacerbate the spread of the novel coronavirus outbreak, which has disproportionally ravaged minority populations.
At the very least, thousands of people, many of them from minority communities, have taken to the streets to express outrage over Floyd’s death while disregarding mitigation policies like social distancing meant to stem the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
Minority communities have “been most traumatized by the dual crisis of a COVID-19 pandemic and an economic crisis that we’re facing right now,” St. Paul, MN Mayor Melvin Carter (D) pointed out during a press conference Saturday.
“Those same communities are being re-traumatized right now as our black-owned barbershops, as our immigrant-owned restaurants as local generational family-owned businesses are damaged and destroyed night after night,” he added. “This must stop.”
Some protesters are wearing masks, but Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz (D) told reporters on Saturday they are doing so for the wrong reasons — to wreak havoc without being recognized and “take advantage of this situation.”
“I will continue to stress because it seems like a lifetime ago: We are still in the middle of a pandemic and passed 1,000 deaths yesterday. We still have hospitals on the verge of being overrun with COVID-19,” Gov. Walz declared.
“We are in the middle of a pandemic right now,” Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey (D) added, echoing Walz. “We have two crises that are sandwiched on top of one another.”
On Thursday, health officials in Minnesota also warned that the mass protests were almost sure to fuel new COVID-19 cases.
The Star Tribune quoted State Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm as saying:
People are moved to want to speak and to want to gather in solidarity and in protest, and we certainly honor and respect that right. As we know, large gatherings do pose a risk in any epidemic, but certainly where we stand today with the state of COVID-19 spread in our community. Knowing that we have community spread, we just want to again encourage folks who gather to be mindful of the risk.
Violent rioting and looting have been raging in Minnesota’s Twin Cities, particularly in Minneapolis, where Floyd died after Derek Chauvin, a now-fired white police officer, kneeled on his neck for several minutes in an incident caught on camera. Floyd was unarmed.
The havoc that began in Minnesota has spread to urban centers across America, including New York City.
“You have a right to demonstrate. You have the right to protest. God bless America,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) declared during his coronavirus briefing Saturday. “You don’t have a right to infect other people. You don’t have a right to act in a way that’s going to jeopardize public health.”
“Even if you think you’re a superhero because you’re young and you’re strong, you can get it and then infect someone else,” he added. “So it’s just wholly irresponsible… You can have an opinion, but there are also facts, and you’re wrong not to wear a mask.”
Protests, including peaceful demonstrations, have been sweeping the nation since Floyd’s death on Monday as many cities began a phased reopening.
“The situation in Minneapolis is no longer in any way about the murder of George Floyd,” Minnesota Gov. Walz said. “It is about attacking civil society, instilling fear, and disrupting our great cities.”
At least initially, some Democrats, including Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, endorsed the protests that have spiraled out of control.
On Friday, Authorities have charged fired police officer Chauvin with third-degree murder and manslaughter.