June 15, 2021

Coronavirus cases are climbing again in the South and the West. Will crowded protests spark bigger outbreaks?

For months Americans were cooped up at home, doing their part to slow the spread of the coronavirus. But in recent days tens of thousands of them have filled the streets in at least 380 cities and towns across all 50 states to protest police brutality and systemic racism — threats they believe are even more dangerous to people of color than COVID-19.

They are marching shoulder-to-shoulder for hours on end. They are chanting, shouting and singing, often without masks. Meanwhile, police officers are spraying them with cough-inducing tear gas, herding them into tight corners and loading the hundreds they arrest into buses, vans and holding cells.

The question now is whether this apparent recipe for COVID-19 disaster will spark a resurgence right when the United States seemed to be getting its epidemic under control.

Experts and epidemiologists say that we won’t know the answer for weeks. After infection, symptoms can take up to 14 days to present; testing positive or requiring hospitalization can take even longer. Today’s data is a window into the past.

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