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Second wave cometh


June 14, 2020

All over America, protesters have taken to the streets to protest the police murders of African Americans George Floyd in Minneapolis and Breonna Taylor in Louisville and the white vigilante lynching of African American Ahmed Aubrey in Brunswick, Georgia.

Part of the news coverage has dwelled on the speculation that the protests will fuel a second wave of COVID-19. One infectious disease scientist, Trevor Bedford of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, made the rough calculation that the protests could ultimately lead to between 15,000 and 50,000 overall coronavirus infections and between 50 to 500 deaths.

Of course, any additional death is a sad continuance of a tragedy that has disproportionately devastated the same communities brutalized by police. But it barely compares to the rioting of the virus and the looting of lives incited by the incompetence of the Trump administration and state decisions to prioritize reopening for business over public health. Those policies have seriously worsened a pandemic that has already caused 113,000 deaths in the United States according to the latest New York Times figures and is still racking up 50,000 infections in the nation every two to three days and around 1,000 deaths every day.

And even if one does focus solely on the protesters, it should be noted that while people certainly did not stay at least six feet away from each other in the throngs, most of those pictured in photographs from the marches and rallies wore face coverings.

Those same masks worn by protesters were too often ripped off in agony as police around the nation chose to break up usually peaceful protests with tear gas and pepper spray. Researchers told National Public Radio that the gasping and violent coughing can project the virus of an infected person many feet. Many of those gasping people were then herded into packed vans and sent to crowded jails.

The Army has found that tear gas training exercises make soldiers more susceptible to acute respiratory illnesses, and the increased risk of Covid-19 spread triggered by using tear gas is so high that Duke University researcher Sven Eric Jordt told NPR, “Using it in the current situation with Covid-19 around is completely irresponsible.”

The police also displayed more irresponsibility than the people they were supposed to control by often spurning face coverings for themselves and practicing no social distancing. Several New York City police officers told the media that face coverings are too hot and difficult to breathe through while dealing with protesters. In Chattanooga, Tennessee, local and county policy said they did not wear face coverings because they hampered communication.

That did not wash with the Rev Alaina Cobb of the Mercy Junction Justice and Peace Center. She said to the Chattanooga Times Free Press, “We see once again the significance of the police’s disregard for the health, safety and even lives of those who they feign they are here to protect.”

The police actions mirrored political disregard around the nation for health, safety, and lives – especially those of black and brown people. Governors in many states ignored pleas not to reopen so quickly from mayors of cities whose populations are significantly of color and hard hit by Covid-19.

One of the most dramatic dismissals of the damage and continuing risk of Covid-19 to black people came a month ago in Mississippi, where Governor Tate Reeves announced an aggressive reopening of close-contact gyms, hair salons, and barbershops on the same day the state hit a record high in new cases. He could reopen with unspoken racial comfort as a white governor. Mississippi is 59 percent white, but 52 percent of the state’s Covid-19 deaths have been suffered by African Americans, who are more vulnerable to the disease through a combination of poor prior health, congested living conditions, and riskier essential jobs.

As my epidemiologist wife Michelle D Holmes pointed out in her own commentary in Vox Populi, Reeves justified reopening by claiming that the economic damage was becoming as “disastrous” as the virus. Vigorously objecting to this equating of money with life was Chokwe Antar Lumumba, mayor of Mississippi’s heavily black capital of Jackson. He said, “It’s a bad decision to freeze economic progress, but a worse one to sacrifice human lives.”

The rush back to business by Reeves and so many governors who have pursued aggressive openings gives a new expression of white privilege in America. In striking photographs from all over the country, predominately white crowds are packed shoulder to shoulder, with few face coverings, at raceways, at Lake of the Ozarks, West Coast and East Coast beaches, and at the launch of SpaceX.

These photos showcase a kind of jolly version of the angry, all-white, and supremacist-influenced anti-lockdown protests at state capitols. The images amount to an open declaration that the pursuit of white happiness is an unalienable, unalterable right. It offers up a perverted version of America the Beautiful, where alabaster crowds beam, undimmed by Covid-19 tears from black and brown communities.

Excerpted from: 'A Second Wave of COVID-19 Looms Large – and It’s Not Because of Protests'.