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Letter From Medical Experts Says Anti-Racism Activists Can Gather, Others Can’t

A group of "experts" released a letter that said only anti-racism protesters could ignore COVID-19 stay-at-home orders.

San Francisco, CA – One thousand infectious disease and public health experts signed a letter that said it was okay to ignore stay-at-home orders due to coronavirus “to call attention to the pervasive lethal force of white supremacy,” but not to protest the pandemic lockdown orders themselves.

Those experts called on police to stop using respiratory irritants on anti-racism rioters and demanded that police maintain social distancing with protesters even though the protesters were ignoring the guidelines.

The letter, which is positioned as a public health warning petition being sent to local and state governments, began by condemning “heavily armed and predominantly white protesters” who marched on the Michigan statehouse last month to protest extended lockdowns and business closures due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Then the letter noted that continuing protests began at the end of May in response to the death of 46-year-old George Floyd as he was being arrested by Minneapolis police on May 25 but said those gatherings should not be prevented.

“A public health response to these demonstrations is also warranted, but this message must be wholly different from the response to white protesters resisting stay-home orders,” the letter read. “Infectious disease and public health narratives adjacent to demonstrations against racism must be consciously anti-racist, and infectious disease experts must be clear and consistent in prioritizing an anti-racist message.”

Then the so-called warning letter about using respiratory irritants during a pandemic became more of a political lecture about systemic oppression and bias.

“White supremacy is a lethal public health issue that predates and contributes to COVID-19,” it read. “Black people are twice as likely to be killed by police compared to white people, but the effects of racism are far more pervasive. Black people suffer from dramatic health disparities in life expectancy, maternal and infant mortality, chronic medical conditions, and outcomes from acute illnesses like myocardial infarction and sepsis.”

“Biological determinants are insufficient to explain these disparities. They result from long-standing systems of oppression and bias which have subjected people of color to discrimination in the healthcare setting, decreased access to medical care and healthy food, unsafe working conditions, mass incarceration, exposure to pollution and noise, and the toxic effects of stress. Black people are also more likely to develop COVID-19,” the letter continued. “Black people with COVID-19 are diagnosed later in the disease course and have a higher rate of hospitalization, mechanical ventilation, and death.”

“COVID-19 among Black patients is yet another lethal manifestation of white supremacy,” the infectious disease experts warned. “In addressing demonstrations against white supremacy, our first statement must be one of unwavering support for those who would dismantle, uproot, or reform racist institutions.”

Then the letter said it was okay to break social distancing, masking, and stay-at-home guidelines if protesters were demonstrating to “call attention to the pervasive lethal force of white supremacy.”

“However, 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 experts said. “We can show that support by facilitating safest protesting practices without detracting from demonstrators’ ability to gather and demand change.”

The letter made it clear that the stay-at-home order free pass was not extended to all public gatherings.

“This should not be confused with a permissive stance on all gatherings, particularly protests against stay-home orders,” the letter clarified. “Those actions not only oppose public health interventions, but are also rooted in white nationalism and run contrary to respect for Black lives. Protests against systemic racism, which fosters the disproportionate burden of COVID-19 on Black communities and also perpetuates police violence, must be supported.”

Then the experts went on to encourage state and local governments to support the Floyd protests and not try to shut them down because of the pandemic.

The letter, purportedly signed by health experts, also said protesters shouldn’t be arrested and held in small spaces together or transported in “police vans,” specifically, although many of the protesters are arriving at the demonstrations in full large vehicles or via public transit.

Then they said police should not deploy respiratory irritants at anti-racism protesters and said officers were responsible for social distancing from protesters, not the other way around.

University of California –San Francisco Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, who was one of the doctors who signed the letter, addressed the more medical aspects of the entirely political missive with the Los Angeles Times.

Chin-Hong said that spraying agents that cause people to cough and scream spreads infected droplets from one person to others in the crowd, and that when protesters get hit with tear gas, pepper spray, or any other respiratory irritants, it causes those who are wearing masks to prevent the spread of the coronavirus to remove them so they can rub their eyes, nose, and mouth.

The doctor said the respiratory irritants inflame the inside of the nose and mouth, as well as the lining of the lung tissues, and make a person’s body more susceptible to catching something during the pandemic, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Chin-Hong said 20-50 percent of people infected with COVID-19 are asymptomatic and can easily spread the virus to other vulnerable protesters in a crowd.

However, Chin-Hong did not explain why there was to be one set of coronavirus guidelines for anti-racism protesters and another set of rules for everybody else.

Sandy Malone - June Thu, 2020

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