Protesting is in full swing this summer as thousands of people flock to the streets to support the protests within their cities and towns. With that said, we’re also in the midst of a pandemic, and heading into a large group can be overwhelming, anxiety-provoking, and downright scary. It’s okay to be scared!

Just don’t let those fears dissuade you from making sure your voice is heard. While there will always be a risk of contracting (or transmitting if you’re asymptomatic) COVID-19, there are a slew of tips and tricks you can employ to drastically reduce this risk!

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A Bit About COVID-19, Transmitting, and the Group Dynamic

By now, we’re probably all experts on the basics of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes the disease COVID-19. Yet, how much do you know about the transmission process? Specifically for those that have or are planning to protest, how much do you know about transmission in a group dynamic? Before hitting the streets, take a moment to gain some knowledge about the virus. The more you know, the better you can protect yourself and others.

Coronavirus Refresher

SARS-CoV-2 belongs to a “large family of viruses that usually cause mild to moderate upper-respiratory tract illnesses, like the common cold.” It gets its name from the “crownlike spikes that protrude from its surface.” And, this isn’t exactly the first coronavirus outbreak to “cause severe disease and global transmission concerns.”

In fact, this is the third outbreak just in the 21st century.

While SARS-CoV-2 is the virus, the disease COVID-19 is what develops in our bodies and ultimately causes all sorts of problems in both the young and old and sickly and healthy. How does the disease present? The list of symptoms for COVID-19 is routinely changing as we collect more data from those that have contracted the virus, yet, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, symptoms currently include:

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  • Fever or chills
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headache
  • New loss of taste or smell
  • Sore throat
  • Congestion or runny nose
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea

It’s also important to note that no matter your age, current health status, or if you have preexisting conditions, everyone is at risk for developing severe and life-threatening complications from the disease. This is why it’s so important to follow the guidelines of your town, city, or state, wear a mask, and try your best to socially distance!

Some Factors for Group Transmission

The issue that the public is facing right now is ever-changing and varying information. Depending on what news outlet you watch, which podcasts you listen to, or what periodicals your read, the information about the transmission of Sars-CoV-2 changes ever so slightly. With that said, there are a few facts that seem to hold fast across the board.

First off, it’s been determined that COVID-19 is primarily and easily transmitted “through droplets of saliva or discharge … when an infected person coughs or sneezes.” While it’s still possible to contract COVID-19 via “touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching” your eyes, nose, or mouth, recent research has found that this isn’t as likely as was originally thought. Per the Centers for Disease Control, coronavirus spreads “very easily and sustainably between people … however, the virus does not spread easily in other ways.”

When it comes to protesting, there are additional factors that you need to consider. For instance, one of the main staples of a protest is vocalizing the message through yelling, chanting, singing, and basic communicating via your mouth. If COVID-19 is able to transmit through normal speech, then forceful expulsion of spit will send those droplets further, landing on more people in a protest setting. On top of that, you’ve got folks who may be experiencing seasonal allergies or a simple summer cold, which means additional bouts of sneezing and coughing. Basically, more spit everywhere.

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In addition, many peaceful protests are being met with aggressive police retaliation, especially in the form of tear gas and pepper spray. Both of these chemical agents cause irritation of the eyes, nose, mouth, throat, and lungs causing those dosed to immediately begin coughing violently and rubbing their eyes. If every person at the protest is geared up properly — with proper face masks and eye protection — then these factors are drastically contained. Unfortunately, we all know this isn’t the case, therefore it’s up to you to protect yourself!

8 Tips for Safe Pandemic Protesting

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For thousands of Americans, protesting isn’t a choice, but a necessity and a pandemic isn’t going to stand in the way of a fundamental right. With that said, if you’re going to take to the streets make sure to do so with the pandemic in mind. This isn’t just for your own safety, but also for the safety of those around you, especially those who are older or have a preexisting condition. These folks have just as much a right to protest as anyone else, yet they are taking a much greater risk of COVID-19 infection, hospitalization, and even death. Therefore, consider the following tips to prepare you for your next protest!

1. Wear a Face Mask

Yes, it’s a hot topic that seems to be up for debate across the country. Yet, the science behind the effectiveness of face masks is clear cut and affirming. Face masks drastically reduce the transmission of COVID-19. This has been proven both in the laboratory and in real-world situations. One recent experiment entitled Visualizing Speech-Generated Oral Fluid Droplets with Laser Light Scattering found that “hundreds of droplets ranging from 20 to 500 micrometers were generated when saying a simple phrase, but that nearly all these droplets were blocked when the mouth was covered.” 

Two specific real-world-scenario studies have also revealed the effectiveness of face masks. A study that can be reviewed in Health Affairscompared the COVID-19 growth rate before and after mask mandates in 15 states and the District of Columbia … [and] … found that mask mandates led to a slowdown in daily COVID-19 growth rate.” The second study reviewed “coronavirus deaths across 198 countries and found that those with cultural norms or government policies favoring mask-wearing had lower death rates.” These are just a few arguments for mask protection. Plus, by wearing a mask at protests you’re also protecting yourself against pepper spray and tear gas, which is simply an added bonus in the instance of a worst-case scenario.

2. Wear Goggles

There’s a reason you keep hearing health officials telling us to stop touching our faces! Those COVID-19 spit droplets from strangers not only infect via your mouth and nose, but they can also transmit the disease via your eyes. While a mask protects you from mouth and nose infection, the only thing protecting your eyes from those spit droplets are glasses or goggles.

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When it comes to protests, glasses may not do the trick. Protests involve a lack of social distancing, large groups of people, and lots of singing, chanting, and yelling. Droplets are able to make their way into the sides, underneath, and over your regular prescription glasses or sunglasses. Therefore, choose a pair of goggles for the occasion! Plus, just like wearing a face mask, a sealing pair of goggles will protect your eyes from tear gas and pepper spray as well. Just another added bonus!

3. Go Fully Clothed

When you’re at a protest, you can reduce your risk of contracting the virus if you go fully clothed. This means top to bottom! Wear a hat, goggles, face mask, scarf or bandana around the neck, long sleeve shirt, long pants, and closed-toed shoes. You may even want to consider wearing a light pair of gloves. Through this method, you’ll protect your skin from coming in contact with the virus. Once you get back to your car or front doorstep, remove all of your clothes and pull on a fresh set of clothing or jump directly into the shower.

4. Pack Clean Clothes

Following on the heels of number three, make sure to pack a clean set of clothing! It’s important to make sure these clothes don’t come in contact with anyone at the protest. Therefore, either leave the change of clothes in your car or wrap them in a plastic bag and keep them in a knapsack or backpack that is completely sealed. This way when you’re done protesting, you can slip out of the “possibly” infected clothing items, pull on clean clothes, throw some sanitizer on your hands, and go about your day.

5. Apply Hand Sanitizer Regularly

This brings us to that dreaded hand sanitizer! It’s been a long four or five months of constant hand washing and sanitizing of our hands, yet it truly is one of the most effective ways to keep yourself and others safe from COVID-19. This isn’t simply hearsay, but the effectiveness of sanitizer on COVID-19 has actually been laboratory studied and proved! Keep a small bottle in your backpack or pocket and apply regularly throughout the protest. If you’re not fully clothed, you can also apply sanitizer to other parts of the body such as your arms and legs. It’s also recommended to store a bottle in your car and make sure to apply once you’ve changed your clothes and before you begin driving.

If you’re headed home via public transportation, make sure to apply before you get on the bus or train and then apply again after you’ve removed your clothes, but before you enter your house.

6. Keep Water and Food in a Backpack

We’re now hitting one of the peak hot months of the summer, therefore it’s important to stay both hydrated and nourished while protesting. Yes, you should absolutely bring food and water. No, you should not be drinking your water or eating your food in the midst of the protest route.

Spit particles will be everywhere in the air around you — they are what’s called aerosolized — therefore, if you’re enjoying a big swig of water or a sandwich within six feet of another protester who is talking, singing, chanting, or yelling, those spit particles may land on your water bottle, sandwich, or revealed face. Take a break, step out of the group, find at least six or more feet of isolation, and enjoy your food and water. On top of that, don’t carry your food or water bottle in your hands. Make sure to seal these away in a plastic bag within a backpack. This ensures that when you go to enjoy them along the protest route, they aren’t already contaminated. It’s also a good idea to apply hand sanitizer before indulging, no matter if you’re wearing gloves or not.

7. Opt for Signs

We live in very different times and this means that we may need to adjust our protest methods just a smidgen. For instance, while chanting, singing, and yelling are all staples of protest, it’s also the best way to spread COVID-19. And a mask can only do so much to keep those spit droplets from escaping, especially when they are forcefully being exerted from the mouth. Therefore, consider using signs in lieu of voice?

Images from across the country — as well as the world — show the powerful messages conveyed by some of these signs. Plus, unless you have a bullhorn or everyone is chanting the same identical message, your personal message may not get across the expanse of noise. A sign can be seen and consumed visually from every angle and can’t be drowned out by other protestors.

8. Respect Social Distancing

We’re all sick of the social distancing game! As incredibly social creatures, this whole six-feet-away and no groups over 10 has been one of the hardest parts of dealing with the Coronavirus pandemic. Yet, science once again says it works, therefore, we’ve got to respect ourselves and those around us and keep up with it. It may be near impossible to socially distance during a protest. In fact, the idea of socially distancing at a protest is a bit counterintuitive to a protest by nature. With that said, do your best to try and give those around you space and space yourself out from others.

Maybe look for peaceful seated protests or smaller, local protests to take part in. Remember, if you absolutely can’t socially distance, then you should be 100 percent following the above guidelines to protect your eyes, mouth, nose, and skin!

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If you’re looking to get out in the streets and voice your opinion, take a moment to imbue yourself with a bit of knowledge! Keep yourself safe, while still supporting the cause. Learn more about both the Coronavirus pandemic and keep up with news about the protests.

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