Shouting at packed protests increases COVID-19 risk so consider signs instead, Tam suggests
OTTAWA -- As protests escalate following the police-involved death of George Floyd, Canada's public health officials are cautioning protesters to follow public health measures.
"I think it's people's right to express their support, and in some cases concern, about things that are unfolding both here in our country and across the world," Health Minister Patty Hajdu said Monday at a press conference.
She went on to say that gathering together is a "very powerful way to lend that support" and to "be an ally in many of these kinds of situations."
However, in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic — during which officials are warning Canadians to stay home as much as possible, and not to gather in large groups — Hajdu warned that protesters need to keep following public health measures.
"There are ways to do it more safely. People still do need to keep physical distance, make sure that they bring with them hand sanitizer, for example, and … bring a mask," said Hajdu.
During the press conference, Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam echoed the advice to maintain as much distance as possible, wear masks, and use hand sanitizer. She also warned that shouting could lead to more droplets being spread, and cautioned protesters to consider other methods.
"You might want to choose other means of…messaging, whether it be signage, or making noise using other instruments for example," Tam said. "Shouting, and that type of behavior can potentially project more droplets."
Tam added that being outdoors lowers risk as well, so protesters will want to be mindful of any events taking place in an enclosed environment.
"Anything that's more in an enclosed environment with lots of people are the things that local public health will be most concerned about in terms of COVID-19 spread," she said.
Infectious disease expert Dr. Abdu Sharkawy told CTV News Channel on Monday that there is a "certain level of concern" with the large protests amid the ongoing pandemic. Speaking about the U.S., he said that the country is already "grappling to get [COVID-19] under control."
"When you see people out in public in large crowds, not wearing masks, and frankly not really capably of distancing given the circumstances, it does create a certain level of concern that there will be unfortunately cases spawned from these sorts of protests," Sharkawy said.
"I will caution and remind, though, that the risk is certainly lower being outdoors than being indoors in confined spaces."
As the protests against anti-black racism continue to spread around the globe, U.S. public health officials have also discovered a racialized aspect to the pandemic itself.
In April, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a breakdown of COVID-19 case data by race. It was then discovered that the deadly virus was disproportionately affecting black communities.
Advocates in Canada told the Canadian Press that the situation is likely playing out on a smaller scale in Canada, although Canada is not collecting race-based data, making it difficult to determine the impact of the novel coronavirus on Canada’s communities of colour.
The Public Health Agency of Canada has said it is looking into the possibility of collecting more demographic data related to the disease.
With files from The Canadian Press