Protests in major U.S. cities over the police-involved death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, could touch off a spike in coronavirus cases, government officials warned on Sunday.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms expressed concern that the protests, which have devolved into rioting and looting in many cities, could lead to a resurgence of the virus.
“I am extremely concerned when we are seeing mass gatherings,” Bottoms, a Democrat, said on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday.
“We know what’s already happening in our community with this virus. If we’re going to see — we’re going to see the other side of this in a couple of weeks,” she added.
Hogan, a Republican, echoed Bottoms’s concern in his own “State of the Union” interview.
“Right now, the immediate concern is to lower the temperature, stop the looting, and potentially keep our citizens safe from the riots that are going on,” said Hogan.
“But the next step is to worry about this, what we have been focused on for the past couple of months, is the safety — dealing with this coronavirus,” he added.
“And there’s no question that, when you put hundreds or thousands of people together in close proximity, when we have got this virus all over the streets, is — it’s not healthy.”
City and state governments across the U.S. have imposed restrictions on large gatherings in order to slow transmission of coronavirus. Establishment media outlets have reported breathlessly on gatherings at beaches, churches and other venues.
Major cities have been hardest hit during the pandemic in large part due to higher population densities in those areas.
More than 1.7 million Americans have tested positive for COVID-19. As of Sunday, more than 103,000 Americans have died from the disease.
Bottoms noted that the virus has hit minority communities hardest.
“There is still a pandemic in America that’s killing black and brown people at higher numbers,” she said during a press conference on Saturday.
“If you were out protesting last night, you probably need to go get a COVID test this week.”
According to the COVID Tracking Project, African-Americans make up 13% of the U.S. population but 25% of coronavirus deaths were race has been identified.
Protests began earlier this week in Minneapolis after Floyd, 46, died while in police custody. Video footage showed a police officer pressing his knee into Floyd’s neck during an arrest for an alleged forgery. Floyd, who was unarmed, is heard calling for help in the video, and saying he was unable to breathe. He later died.
The protests soon descended into rioting and looting across the country.
At least three murders have occurred during the protests. A federal security contractor was gunned down in Oakland on Friday night after a person in a vehicle opened fire on officers outside of a federal courthouse there.
A 21-year-old man in Detroit was also murdered near a protest, and a man in Indianapolis died on Saturday night.
Video footage has emerged showing mobs of rioters beating bystanders, looting and burning retail shops, and defacing government buildings and churches.