Dr. Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in a Friday interview that he fears that the current bout of widespread protests raise the risk of new COVID-19 hotspots.
“Every time I hear about or see the congregation of large crowds at a time and geographic area where there is active infection transmission, it is a perfect set-up for the spread of the virus in the sense of creating these blips that might turn into some surges,” Fauci told radio station WTOP in a June 5 interview.
“So I get very concerned,” he said, calling the current situation a “delicate balance,” referring to the tension between protesters’ right to voice grievances and restrictions necessary to contain the spread of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) virus, the novel coronavirus that emerged from China and that causes COVID-19.
“The reasons for demonstrating are valid, yet the demonstration itself puts one at an additional risk,” Fauci said of the protests over the police custody death of George Floyd, which has sparked outrage and led to criminal charges against four Minneapolis police officers.
Fauci’s comments come as debate heats up, also among epidemiologists, over how to respond to the protests, which violate restrictions imposed to curb the spread of the virus.
Hundreds of health and medical professionals signed an open letter recently, arguing that the protests should receive special treatment.
“We wanted to present a narrative that prioritizes opposition to racism as vital to the public health, including the epidemic response,” the letter said, as reported by CNN.
“As public health advocates, we do not condemn these gatherings as risky for Covid-19 transmission. We support them as vital to the national public health and to the threatened health specifically of black people in the United States,” the letter said.
Others, like Mark Levine, chair of the New York City Council health committee, were even more forceful in pressing the point.
“Let’s be clear about something: if there is a spike in coronavirus cases in the next two weeks, don’t blame the protesters,” Levine wrote in a tweet. “Blame racism.”
Many conservatives denounced this attitude as hypocritical.
“You know what erodes public trust?” wrote Jonah Goldberg in an article in The Dispatch, “When they say that you’re a fool or monster who will get people killed for wanting to go to church or keep your business open but you’re a hero when you join a protest they approve of.”
“You can’t say goodbye to your dying mother. You might kill others. You have to let your business die. You might kill others. You must remove your kids from school. You might kill others. You can absolutely do the macarena with woke protesters,” political commentator Ben Shapiro wrote in a tweet, sharing a video of Georgia National Guard members in Atlanta dancing with protesters, not wearing masks and not social distancing.
Fauci, in an interview with The Sunday Times, called the current protests a “perfect recipe” for spreading the deadly bug in particular because many people from other regions came to join in.
“They had come in from the outside. What happens is you get people who come in [for the protest], mix with them, then go back to where they live, that’s the perfect recipe for the spread of a respiratory illness,” Fauci told the Times.
“As I sat in front of the TV and watched the screen go from Washington DC to New York City to Los Angeles to Philadelphia, I got really concerned,” he said.
“I was going: ‘Oh my goodness, I hope this doesn’t set us back a lot.’ [After] all of the work in trying to maintain the physical distance and doing all the things, I became very concerned that we might see a resurgence,” Fauci added.
His advice for people was to wear a mask when going to a demonstration and to keep it on the whole time.