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Police Tactics At Protests May Lead To More COVID-19 Cases In LA

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The use of tear gas by law enforcement in Los Angeles during protests this weekend may lead to more cases of COVID-19, experts said.

“During this time when we're protesting police brutality, the use of tear gas is causing more harm in the way of spreading COVID,” said David Eisenman, professor of medicine and public health at UCLA. “There is some culpability on the police for using this method, which increases the sneezing and increases the coughing and therefore increases the spread."

Eisenman is also concerned that law enforcement isn’t considering social distancing while people are in custody. Police officers making arrests in L.A. corralled people together in some cases and herded them onto buses.

“People who've been arrested are being maintained for a prolonged period of time in large groups, [in] confined spaces. So that's also a risk for spreading COVID,” Eisenman said. “If there's one person in that group who is asymptomatic and spreading, or even symptomatic and spreading, we could have super-spread or events due to police custody.”

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When asked during a press conference if the county health department would be issuing any guidance to law enforcement, director Barbara Ferrer said: “Thanks for alerting us to that.”

“We're always happy to talk with any sector about how to maximize the ability, as you're going about your business, for all people to be safe,” Ferrer said.

Ferrer also noted the underlying racism connecting the killing of George Floyd and other black men by police officers to the disproportionate toll COVID-19 has taken on black Angelenos.

"When I report each week that we have seen elevated numbers of black deaths in this county due to COVID-19, I am reporting on the consequences of these long-standing inequities," she said.

Ferrer also expressed concern about protests turning into so-called "super-spreader" events, whereby one infected person could potentially infect many others. She cautioned demonstrators to maintain physical distance as much as possible, and to wear face coverings.

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“Please take care for and protect all of the people around you," Ferrer said. "Wearing your face covering is a much needed act of kindness and respect.”

TESTING SITES CLOSED DUE TO UNREST

Meanwhile, access to testing has dramatically decreased as many testing sites have been closed due to the unrest.

Eisenman said people who attended protests should get tested within the next week. He also thinks health officials should do more to increase access to testing, especially in vulnerable communities of color that have been disproportionately impacted by the virus.

He said health officials also need to work harder to gain trust from communities that may be wary.

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“We need to make sure that people feel that their information will be kept away from law enforcement, that this will not be connected somehow,"Eisenman said. "We need to get trusted community members to get that message out. It's vitally important that we increase testing in the days and weeks to come."

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