Weekend protests drew crowds across the country including in the Mountain West, from hundreds in Boise and Reno to thousands in Denver. Some city leaders now worry such gatherings could lead to new outbreaks of COVID-19.
Denver Mayor Michael Hancock announced Sunday that the city will be offering free tests to demonstrators.
"We did see and have witnessed people demonstrating in our community – peacefully, as well as after hours when it's not so peaceful – without face coverings, and so we want to remind everyone and invite you that next weekend, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, go down to the Pepsi Center and get tested for COVID-19 for free," said Hancock. "It's free, it is quick, it is painless and at least we can use that opportunity to make sure that we continue to blunt the spread of the coronavirus."
A spokesperson with the city says people would not need to declare – or prove – they'd been at a protest in order to qualify for testing, but that they would need to register online and provide a name and address.
As Dr. Emily Landon, a hospital epidemiologist and infectious diseases specialist at University of Chicago Medicine, told NPR, it takes at least three to five days after exposure before a nasal swab test will be able to pick up on an infection. Denver's testing event fits with that window, as it begins five days after Sunday's demonstration. Protests are expected to continue this week.
City officials in other places, like Atlanta and New York, are also encouraging protesters to get tested for COVID-19. New York City's health department offered tips for protesters on how to avoid spreading COVID-19:
Plan to protest? Here are tips to reduce the risk of spreading #COVID19:
✔️Wear a face covering
✔️Wear eye protection to prevent injury
✔️Use hand sanitizer
✔️Don't yell; use signs & noise makers instead
✔️Stick to a small group
✔️Keep 6 feet from other groups— nychealthy (@nycHealthy) May 30, 2020
As The Verge pointed out, law enforcement's handling of the events could make the complicated task of contact tracing even more difficult than usual: "People who test positive for the coronavirus may be reluctant to tell health officials if they were at protests because they may worry about retaliation. They might not want to identify people they interacted with at the protests for the same reasons. That's just one way mistrust makes it difficult for public health officials to track down clusters of COVID-19."
According to Dr. Jonathan Samet, dean of the Colorado School of Public Health, there's roughly a 13-day lag between when someone gets infected with COVID-19 and when they may need to be hospitalized for it. Dean is an epidemiologist who has been working with the state's health department to model its COVID-19 outbreak.
This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
Do you have questions about COVID-19? How has this crisis affected you? Our reporters would love to hear from you. You can submit your question or share your story here.