Will protests trigger a COVID-19 spike? North Carolina health officials weigh in

As large groups gather across the nation including the Triangle to protest the death of George Floyd, a black man who died in a struggle with a white Minneapolis police officer, there is growing concern the demonstrations could trigger an increase of COVID-19 cases.

NCDHHS Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen addressed the concern during a news conference on June 1 after a weekend of protests in North Carolina.

"I was heartened to see a lot of the folks who were protesting over the weekend, they were wearing face coverings," Cohen said. "I was appreciative in the context of all the pain and anguish of the weekend that people were taking that act of care and kindness to protect the world from them."

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Cohen encouraged protesters to remain vigilant in helping to slow the spread of coronavirus while spreading their message encouraging everyone to wear a mask, remain socially distant and continue washing hands frequently.

"I think anytime we have more people in close contact even when they are outside, it's a risk," Cohen said.

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Governor Roy Cooper also addressed the concern during a press briefing on May 31.

"Yes, we continue to worry about the spread of COVID-19," Cooper said. "First Amendment protests are exempted under the executive order. But we want people to be as careful as we possibly can because we're continuing to face greater numbers."

Under Phase 2 restrictions in North Carolina, outdoor gatherings are limited to 25 and indoor gatherings to 10 people.

Cohen said the state will have to wait and see if the protests lead to a spike in cases. It takes up to two weeks to trace data back to one particular event so it's unclear if the demonstrations will cause a spike in cases.

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