Public health experts have been urging Americans to avoid congregating in large groups for months.
But many public health officials support recent protests against systemic racism because its impact on health inequities has imperiled public health for much longer and with much greater impact than COVID-19.
A group of over 1,200 health and medical professionals across the country recently signed an open letter asserting “white supremacy is a lethal public health issue that predates and contributes to COVID-19.” Some doctors have even joined the protests.
The letter calls the protests “vital to the national public health and to the threatened health specifically of Black people in the United States.” It encourages protestors to wear masks and bring hand sanitizer, and warns tear gas could increase the risk of COVID-19 infection.
World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus echoed support of the “global movement against racism” and urged protesters to take precautions.
Detractors accuse public health experts of politicizing social distancing in deciding which gatherings are worth the risk.
But as one epidemiologist put it, “COVID is a public health emergency. So is racism. We need to fight both.”
Learn more about the impact of racism on public health here.