June 5, 2020 — For weeks, Bruno Estrada diligently followed all the recommendations to stave off the coronavirus. He washed his hands frequently, worked from home, and left his house in Queens, NY, only to walk his dog and go grocery shopping. He avoided public transit to stay away from crowds.
But over the last week, Estrada has been among the hundreds of thousands of Americans who have defied orders designed to slow down the spread of the coronavirus and taken to the streets in protests sparked by anger, frustration, and sadness over the death of George Floyd. Floyd, an African American man, died last week in custody of Minneapolis police officers who have been charged in his death.
As they take in the images of mass gatherings for a second week, public health officials around the country worry they’re going to see more coronavirus cases and hospitalizations of patients with severe symptoms of COVID-19. There are reports of protesters who have tested positive for the virus, including a football player for Oklahoma State University who took part in a demonstration in Tulsa.
“This is an especially difficult time for our country, and we certainly want to do everything we can to support everybody involved, because health and safety go hand in hand,” says Umair A. Shah, MD, the executive director of Harris County Public Health in Texas. “We just don’t want to go backward.”
Estrada, a 29-year-old environmental awareness educator, learned this week he had antibodies that likely show he has already been infected once. Still, he says taking to the streets to support friends who have been assaulted by officers was worth the risk of getting the virus a second time because “to me, it felt irresponsible not to stand up for the values of human life.”
“It feels like the last straw,” he says.
Estrada says he’s going out of his way to keep himself and fellow protesters safe. He wears multiple masks, a long-sleeve shirt, goggles, and a hat when he goes out. When he gets home, he takes a shower, places his clothes in the laundry as soon as he can, and disinfects surfaces more often. He says he’s being more vigilant now in part to protect his parents, who had headaches, body aches, fevers, and other COVID-19 symptoms about 2 months ago.