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Dr. Leana Wen: 5 safety measures to keep in mind if you're protesting during COVID-19

Mika Brzezinski recently chatted with the emergency physician and former health commissioner for Baltimore about ways protesters can mitigate their risk of getting or spreading coronavirus.
Image: Washington protest
Demonstrators pause to kneel as they march in Washington on June 2, 2020.Alex Brandon / AP

Americans are taking to the streets to protest the police killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and more. And while any time people gather in groups, there’s an increased risk of getting or spreading COVID-19, there are ways to reduce your risk and stay safer, said Dr. Leana Wen, an emergency physician and former health commissioner for Baltimore.

Dr. Wen, who has been a leading voice in public health and a frequent commentator about coronavirus, recently spoke to Know Your Value founder and “Morning Joe” co-host Mika Brzezinski, about safety measures protesters should keep in mind as they make their voices heard:

1. Wear a face covering.

“A surgical mask, cloth mask or bandanna that covers your nose and mouth will protect yourself and those around you from COVID-19 respiratory droplets,” said Dr. Wen. “Eye protection can also help prevent injury and reduce the impact of tear gas.”

2. Try to keep physical distancing.

“This could be hard in a protest,” acknowledged Dr. Wen. “One way is to use a buddy system and stick to a small group, and have the small group attempt to stay at least six feet away from other groups. Try to not hug ,kiss or shake hands with others.”

3. Bring your own water/snacks.

“It's important to stay hydrated, but don't share drinks or food, as doing so increases risk of COVID-19 transmission,” said Dr. Wen. “If you do take food or drink from others, label your own bottle of water and eat pre-wrapped snacks, like granola bars.”

4. Bring hand sanitizer and use it frequently.

“Watch what you are touching,” advised Dr. Wen. “For example, if you are being handed a sign or bullhorn that many others have touched. Use sanitizer after you touch something that others have too.”

5. Don't go if you are sick.

“If you feel like you're getting a fever, if you're coughing or sneezing, please do not go to the protest. You could infect many others,” said Dr. Wen. “Finally, once you come home, think about your own risk as well as the risk of those you live with. If you have been exposed to many other individuals during the protests, and if you live with older people who have compromised immune systems, considering keeping yourself away from them for several days until you can get tested.”