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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Coronavirus and protests: Standing up against injustice while taking precautions

Black Lives Matter protest in Williamsburg, Sunday, May 31, 2020 (WYDaily/Courtesy of Joseph Miller)
Black Lives Matter protest in Williamsburg, Sunday, May 31, 2020 (WYDaily/Courtesy of Joseph Miller)

It took over the airwaves, headlines, social media: Protests all across the nation crying for justice, specifically for the death of a black man in Minneapolis.

George Floyd died during an arrest after a white police officer pressed a knee into his neck.

The protests are all happening in the middle of a pandemic, and there are questions about a possible second wave of the coronavirus.

While people in the Peninsula are protesting against police brutality, not everyone is social distancing, wearing masks or gathering in groups of fewer than 10 people.

“Well definitely practicing the social distancing, six feet apart and wearing masks is going to be the best thing that they can do if they are going out to protest,” said Julie Grimes, spokeswoman for the Virginia Department of Health.

She said Phase 2 of Gov. Ralph Northam’s Forward Virginia plan to reopen the state starts Friday, which increases the size of gatherings to 50 people, it will cover some of the protests but not necessarily all of them.

“If you know someone has been exposed to COVID-19 or has had or tested positive for COVID-19, in addition to social distancing, you should not be in their presence for more than 10 minutes,” she said. “If you were in those three situations…you need to be more diligent.”

For those who do decide to protest, Grimes said wash your hands, have hand sanitizer with you and to not touch your face. People should also keep an eye out for COVID-19 symptoms — the typical time from exposure is five to seven days and if there are symptoms present, contact your health care provider.

When asked if she expected a second wave of COVID-19 cases due to the protests, she said she won’t hypothesize and the public has the right to express their First Amendment right.

“If they choose to do so, then there is guidance that has been provided to them to try and keep them as safe health wise as possible, so we hope that people follow these guidelines and that will help prevent the number of COVID-19 cases,” she said.

Many who are participating in the protests are part of minority populations that are already at risk of complications from the coronavirus.

“It stands to reason that if people aren’t able to follow [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] and state guidelines, the risk is going to be higher,” said Rufus Phillips, chief executive officer of the Virginia Association of Free and Charitable Clinics. “I don’t know if there’s evidence yet, but there’s been well reported concern about the possible spike in the virus as a result of people being more closely exposed to each other.”

Phillips said minority populations, especially African Americans, are more likely to get infected with the virus because they have social determinants that are barriers to care, such as living in closer quarters and having food or housing insecurity.

Because of those barriers, many already have chronic health issues that put them at a greater risk.

He said many of those populations in Virginia rely on free clinics for care even as coronavirus testing becomes more accessible at health care facilities because they look at the clinics as their primary health care provider.

And with thousands of people gathering for protests, the coronavirus pandemic is continuing to shed light on the inequalities in health care for minorities.

“I think what you’re seeing here is that the coronavirus is revealing the inequities and inequalities of people of color,” he said. “They don’t typically have access to quality health care as other more fortunate people do and I think free clinics try and fill that void.”

Up until recently most free clinics didn’t offer coronavirus testing. Phillips said VAFCC has been working with the state’s newly created Testing Advisory Council to figure out how to provide the proper testing equipment to free clinics. Already there are more than 30 free clinics across the state that have expressed a need for testing equipment.

And just in time as free clinics prepare for the potential spike in minority cases.

“I do think the protests have been helping to grow a stronger response on [the coronavirus] with respect to [minority] communities,” he said. “The protests have created a dialogue at a moment when the nation is focused on this challenging situation…I think it’s going to be a dialogue that continues and hopefully yields some real changes that develop a much more equal system.”


Julia Marsigliano
Julia Marsigliano
Julia Marsigliano is a multimedia reporter for WYDaily. She covers everything on the Peninsula from local government and law enforcement agencies to family-run businesses and weather updates. Before WYDaily, she covered Hampton and Newport News for WYDaily’s sister publication, HNNDaily before both publications merged in December 2018. Julia was born in Tokyo, Japan and moved to Long Island, New York in 2001. A true New Yorker, she loves pizza, bagels and good Chinese food. Send comments, tips and other tidbits to You can follow her on Twitter at @jmarsigliano

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