RICHMOND, Va. -- The Richmond and Henrico Health Departments have released safety recommendations for those partaking in protests during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a release sent Thursday, the health districts said that police violence is "a public health crisis that has lifelong impacts on the physical and mental health of individuals, families, and entire communities."
"The horrific events of the past few weeks have reminded us that racism is an ever-present force in our society that has been far deadlier over time than the COVID-19 pandemic," the release said. "The murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery may have been the tipping point that led to local and national protests, but black and brown people have been forced to live with threats and acts of violence, racism, and the weight of our broken systems for decades and centuries."
Local protests are drawing hundreds and in some cases thousands of people to downtown Richmond to march or gather in close proximity. And while many people are wearing masks, others are protesting without them, which makes the crowd as a whole more vulnerable, according to VDH.
Even outdoors, COVID-19 can transmit from person to person through large gatherings, and just a handful of contagious people can potentially infect hundreds around them. The virus also spreads more easily if an infected person is yelling, which is certainly common during a protest, or when a person is coughing or sneezing.
As the protests continue, those who gather should make every effort to protect themselves and those around them by taking a few steps to reduce the risk of transmitting COVID-19:
· If you feel sick, stay home.
· Wear a mask over your mouth and nose. Remember that masks are most effective when everyone is wearing them, as unmasked people can still spread COVID-19 to masked people in close proximity, especially if they are coughing or yelling.
· Noisemakers, drums, and written signs can convey personal messages with much lower risk for viral transmission.
· Consider carrying goggles and saline spray to reduce coughing and sneezing if you are exposed to smoke, pepper spray, or other chemical irritants.
· Try to stick close to people you know while marching or gathering. If you become infected, this can help with contact tracing efforts.
· Monitor yourself closely for symptoms for two weeks after you protest. If symptoms appear, be sure to isolate and call your primary care provider to arrange testing or come to a community testing event.
· Remember that people with COVID-19 do not always experience symptoms, so take care for two weeks after you attend a protest to wear a mask and practice social distancing to protect your loved ones and community.
"The Richmond and Henrico Health Departments would like to thank all peaceful protesters for their courage and vision as they fight for justice and reform. Please be safe, and love and care for one another as we work to repair and heal our community together."
Since the protests began, the health department has continued to hold community testing events in Richmond and Henrico with the exception of one event postponement.
Dates and times of future testing events can be found on the Health Department website, anyone seeking testing can call the COVID-19 Hotline at (804) 205-3501.