Guidance for Those Protesting During the Seattle COVID-19 Pandemic

The murder of George Floyd has once again brought the issue of racial injustice to the forefront of our nation, our state and our city. There have been calls from our community for systematic change, and many have taken to the streets in protest. Such protests are not only part of our first amendment rights, but also an opportunity, in this moment, to speak in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement and with those in our own workplaces who have been directly affected by racism.

We are also in the midst of a viral pandemic that is driven by social gatherings, transmitted through close contact, and associated with significant morbidity and mortality among those affected by the disease. Many of the policies developed throughout our institutions and in Washington state have focused on avoiding large group activities and unnecessary community exposures and using physical distancing as a way to prevent infections. We have made tremendous progress in limiting the spread of COVID-19, and with support of Public Health experts we have started to see portions of our local community begin to reopen. However, most people remain at risk for infection, and there are concerns for increases in transmission as policies around physical distancing change.

We want everyone who participates in the protests to recognize that by coming together there is a potential risk of acquiring COVID-19. Individuals must make the personal decision to participate in such activities taking into account risks to themselves and their close contacts if they were to develop COVID-19. We recognize and understand, however, that an individual’s desire to pursue social change, justice and equity may be balanced with their concerns about COVID-19. We support our employees who choose to protest while making the effort to keep our communities protected from COVID-19. In order to protect our staff, we have developed the following guidelines modeled on those created by Public Health – Seattle & King County to provide steps staff can take to help limit exposures and protect themselves and our community from COVID-19 while taking part in local protests. These guidelines are not intended to discourage anyone from participating in the protests but are instead to guide participation in a safe manner to the extent possible.

Recommendations:

1. If you are symptomatic or have recently been exposed to someone with COVID-19:
Do not participate in community protests if you feel ill, have active respiratory symptoms such as cough, shortness of breath, fever (or other symptoms of COVID-19), or have recently been exposed to a close contact with documented COVID-19.

2. If you are asymptomatic and plan on joining the protest:
a) Wear a mask or facial covering that fully covers your nose and mouth.
b) Strongly consider wearing or having ready access to goggles or eye protection for added protection (avoid wearing contacts).
c) Bring hand sanitizer and use frequently.
d) Avoid sharing drinks, carrying other’s signs or touching objects that others have touched.
e) Attempt to limit your group size and maintain 6 feet of physical distance whenever possible during the activity.
f) Try to avoid crowded activities that involve shouting or singing in close proximity to others and avoid those who are not wearing masks or face coverings if possible.
g) Bring your own water, food or other personal items.

3. After participating in local protests:
Self-monitor for COVID-19 symptoms for 14 days after this activity. If you develop even mild symptoms consistent with COVID-19, do not come to work, self-isolate and call Employee Health to get tested for COVID-19.

If others who participated in the protests, such as household members, close contacts or those who you had close contact with for more than 15 minutes in an enclosed space (e.g., a car) are diagnosed with COVID-19, or if you receive a call from Public Health about a possible exposure, follow recommendations for self-isolation and call Employee Health to get tested for COVID-19.

Additional FAQ’s (see more from Public Health Insider):

How can I best avoid exposures when traveling to the event?
If you participate, walking, biking or driving alone in a personal vehicle to the event are the best travel options to reduce risk of COVID-19. However, these options are not available to everyone. If you need to drive multiple people in a private vehicle or shared ride, follow the above recommendations (e.g., masking, hand hygiene, etc.) to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission. If you’re using public transportation, remember to wear a face covering, enter through the back door and maintain six feet of distance between yourself and other passengers.

Do I have to self-isolate for 14 days after participating in the protests?
No. As per institutional policies, you should continue to mask (either a surgical mask or cloth face mask), practice physical distancing and use hand hygiene frequently during the day even if you remain asymptomatic. However, if you develop even mild symptoms, you should self-isolate and call Employee Health to get tested for COVID-19.

I protested with my roommate/close contact who has new respiratory symptoms, what should I do?
Assure that your household contact self-isolates at home and maintain physical distancing in your household if possible. Encourage your close contact to get tested for COVID-19 through either their workplace (e.g., University of Washington, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Seattle Cancer Care Alliance) or any of the numerous locations in the metro area open for community testing.

I was contacted by Public Health – Seattle & King County after my roommate tested positive, what should I do?
It is important to follow the recommendations of the Public Health officer and get tested for COVID-19. Tell Employee Health about your exposure so they can help organize testing for you. If you had a household member or close contact test positive for COVID-19, Public Health and your organization may require you to self-isolate at home even if your test is negative.

I have developed new symptoms a few days after the protest, what should I do?
If you develop even mild symptoms consistent with COVID-19, do not come to work, self-isolate and call Employee Health to get tested for COVID-19.

I have heard that tear gas can increase the risk of transmission of COVID-19, is this true?
Public Health – Seattle & King County and Infectious Diseases specialists oppose the use of tear gas and other respiratory irritants based on the potential to increase COVID-19 spread. Tear gas leads to coughing and therefore increased respiratory droplets, which are thought to potentially increase the risk of transmission. Avoid situations where you might directly confront police or members of the military.

Shouting, chanting and singing are often part of protests, how can I be expected to avoid these activities?
Protesting is an individual’s right to support and speak out loud for an important cause. While not always possible to avoid, limiting such shouting/singing to times when you can maintain physical distancing and assuring you are doing so with others who are masked will help limit transmission.

Consider carrying a sign with your message and remember that your presence can be as important as your voice.

I have a chronic health condition, I am immunosuppressed or in an age range that would put me at increased risk for COVID-19, but I want to participate in the protest. Is it safe for me to do so?
In general, we recommend that those who are immunocompromised, those with conditions or in an age bracket (65+) that are at higher risk for COVID-19 complications, consider other methods of supporting the cause rather than participating in the protest.

If I were to become infected could I transmit the infection to someone else at work?
While possible, institutional policies are organized to limit the chance that transmission events can happen between employees, including those who are asymptomatic. Following important policies such as masking, physical distancing, using frequent hand gel and avoiding coming to work with symptoms can help ensure that if you got infected that others in our center would be protected. It is also important to remind other members of your labs, offices and clinical teams to practice physical distancing and to wear masks. The more we all participate in these efforts, the less likely institution-based transmission will occur.

I work in the clinic/hospital, should I be even more careful?
Those who work in healthcare have a special responsibility to our patients. Institutional policies are organized to limit transmission in the clinic, even among asymptomatic individuals. Following clinic and hospital policies for universal masking, physical distancing when possible and frequent hand hygiene is critical for preventing transmission of the virus. It is critical that staff who participate in the protests monitor their symptoms for 14 days after participating and avoid coming to work if they have even mild COVID-19 symptoms. Staff who develop symptoms should contact Employee Health and get tested for COVID-19.

 

John Lynch, MD, MPH 
Medical Director, Infection Prevention 
Harborview Medical Center 
Division of Allergy & Infectious Diseases
UW School of Medicine

Timothy H. Dellit, MD
Chief Medical Officer, UW Medicine
President, UW Physicians
Division of Allergy & Infectious Diseases
UW School of Medicine

Chloe Bryson-Cahn, MD
Assoc. Med. Director, Infection Prevention
Harborview Medical Center
Division of Allergy & Infectious Diseases
UW School of Medicine

Catherine Liu, MD
Assoc. Medical Director, Infection Prevention
Seattle Cancer Care Alliance
Division of Allergy & Infectious Diseases
UW School of Medicine

Seth A. Cohen, MD, MSc
Medical Director, Infection Prevention
UWMC – Northwest Campus
Division of Allergy & Infectious Diseases
UW School of Medicine

Santiago Neme, MD, MPH
Medical Director
UWMC – Northwest Campus
Division of Allergy & Infectious Diseases
UW School of Medicine

Laura Evans, MD, MSc
Associate Medical Director, Critical Care
University of Washington Medical Center
Div. of Pulmonary, Critical Care, & Sleep Medicine
UW School of Medicine

Steven A Pergam, MD, MPH
Medical Director, Infection Prevention
Seattle Cancer Care Alliance
Division of Allergy & Infectious Diseases
UW School of Medicine

Nandita Mani, MD
Fellow
Division of Allergy & Infectious Diseases
UW School of Medicine


Paul S. Pottinger, MD
Head General Infectious Disease Section
University of Washington Medical Center
Division of Allergy & Infectious Diseases
UW School of Medicine