These tips will help decrease the risk of getting or spreading COVID-19 at protests. Learn more about your legal rights from Youth Represent here.
You may feel conflicted about whether to go to Black Lives Matter protests during the COVID-19 pandemic. You’re not alone. After months of being told to stay home and practice social distancing, it may feel strange to see people participating in mass protests.
Exposure to COVID-19 is still very much a risk (and you should think through that risk before deciding to protest). But as a Black woman and doctor, I also deeply understand that the fight against racial injustice and inequity cannot wait. COVID-19 is a public health crisis—and so is racial injustice. Protest is meant to disrupt our everyday lives, and is an important way to advocate for change. Plus, it can feel good to come together and claim power in the face of adversity, and self-care is particularly important in times like these.
If you’re trying to decide whether to go to a protest, I hope the info below will help you make the best decision for you. And if you’ve already decided to take to the streets, use the tips below to keep yourself and your community safe.
Think Protesting Through
Advocacy is like a multi-lane highway.
It has many different lanes, all headed in the same direction toward the same goal. Protest is one (especially visible) lane you can take. But there are many other ways to support the movement and fight for racial justice instead of (or in addition to) taking to the streets. Find a way to make your voice heard that best suits you! Use art, storytelling or social media to support racial justice. Donate or raise funds. Educate yourself by reading books about racism and social justice.
Understand the risks.
There’s still a lot we don’t know about COVID-19, which means there’s still a lot we don’t know about the risks of protesting. Protests have some factors that decrease the risk of transmission (when the virus spreads from one person to another): They’re outside and many people are wearing masks. However, protests also have factors that increase the risk of transmission, like chanting and being in a crowd.
The majority of protests are peaceful. Arrests and use of tear gas, pepper spray and rubber bullets have gone down in recent weeks. However, you can never be 100% sure what will happen. Pepper spray and tear gas make people cough, and increase the risk of spreading COVID-19. Being in jail also increases your risk, since you’re sitting inside close to others for long periods of time.
Talk with your family or roommates.
Like many of you, I live at home with a large extended family, many of whom are over the age of 65 and at risk of getting COVID-19. It’s important to speak to your family (or anyone else you live with) before protesting. This is because protesting will increase not only your own risk of getting COVID-19, but also the risk of everyone in your household.
It’s important to talk as a group about the safety precautions you’ll take and where you can quarantine in your home if you get sick. Before protesting, I spoke to both my parents. They were in full support. However, I know not everyone’s household will feel this way. Be considerate and listen to their concerns.
In NYC, many neighborhoods are organizing their own smaller protests and vigils. It may be easier to socially distance at these. Staying close to home also helps prevent the spread of COVID-19 from one area to another, and may let you avoid taking the bus or subway.
Do not risk infecting others—if you have any symptoms of COVID-19, stay home.
A protest can go for 4-5 miles easily. So make sure you fuel up and hydrate before heading out.
Pack a light bag with your ID, a spare mask, gloves, hand sanitizer, portable phone charger, shatter resistant goggles (they can protect you from tear gas and pepper spray, and help prevent the spread of COVID-19), water and a snack. I personally went with a fanny pack which held my hand sanitizer, snacks, water, phone, and keys.
What to wear
- Sunblock (preferably SPF 30 or higher) to protect your skin from UV rays. You may also want to consider a hat and sunglasses.
- Dress light. This is a protest, not a fashion show. Avoid any extra accessories that might get caught on someone else or get lost. Wear clothes that are comfortable and that you can easily move around in.
- Comfortable shoes. You’ll be doing a lot of walking, so comfy, sturdy shoes are a must. Plus, while the majority of protests have been peaceful, you may need to move quickly. Flip-flops and slides are a no-go.
Use the bathroom
You don’t want to have to leave the protest to find a bathroom. Remember: most of NYC is closed and public bathrooms may not be open or easy to find.
At the protest
These tips will help decrease the risk of getting or spreading COVID-19 at protests. Learn more about your legal rights and interactions with the police here.
WEAR YOUR MASK.
Your mask should be on from the minute you leave your house to when you return. Make sure your mask is clean and fits properly over your nose and under your chin. If you can, carry a second mask in case the first one breaks or gets wet.
Use hand sanitizer.
Use hand sanitizer (that’s at least 60% alcohol) frequently throughout the day. If you need to touch your face or mask for any reason, use hand sanitizer directly before and after.
Try to social distance.
I know it may be hard, but try to stay 6 feet away from others. Consider walking on the sides of the protest, where you have more room. Even if you can’t stay 6 feet away, keeping some distance is better than none.
Never go to a protest alone.
Consider going with friends who have been social distancing and stay close. This way you can look out for each other. You’ll also be partially surrounded by people you know. If one of you tests positive for COVID-19 later, you can all get tested. It is also helpful if you have to leave to use the bathroom and find your way back to the protest.
After the protest
- Change your clothes as soon as you get home. Throw them directly in the wash, or put them in a separate bag until you can wash them.
- Take a shower as soon as you get home.
- Disinfect your belongings (cell phone, wallet, keys, etc.).
- Consider getting tested 5 days or more after the protest. Find free testing sites in NYC.
- Consider quarantining from others in your home for two weeks—ESPECIALLY if you live with someone who is high-risk.
No matter what, keep taking care of yourself.
- Remember: You matter.
- Learn how to practice self-care when confronted with racial trauma.
- Learn how to take care of your mental health through the COVID-19 pandemic.
- More COVID-19 resources
- Learn more about your legal rights when protesting.
- If you’re 10-26 years old in NYC, get free, comprehensive, confidential health care (including mental health care) at the Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center. Call 212-423-3000 for an appointment.
Dr. Nathalie Duroseau, DO is an adolescent medicine fellow at the Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center and completed her residency at Sidney Kimmel Thomas Jefferson University/ Nemours A.I. DuPont Children’s Hospital after receiving both her doctorate in Osteopathic Medicine and a master’s degree in Neuromuscular Sciences at NYIT College of Osteopathic Medicine, Old Westbury, NY. She also received her bachelors in Sociology at New York University. Her particular areas of interest include reproductive health, improving health literacy in adolescents through the use of technology and social media tools, PCOS, and substance abuse among adolescents.
The Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center is located in New York City. It provides comprehensive, confidential, judgment free health care at no charge to over 12,000 young people every year. This column is not intended to provide medical advice, professional diagnosis, opinion, treatment or services to you or to any other individual, only general information for education purposes only.