MIAMI – Merrick Williams was among the thousands of protesters in South Florida who crowded together screaming against racism and police brutality during the coronavirus pandemic.
Williams, a real estate broker and author, said he wore a face mask and he sanitized his hands frequently. But while marching through downtown Miami and Interstate 95 he wasn’t always 6 feet away from people
“I stayed out there all day," Williams said. "I have been assaulted by cops in my life, and I wanted to make sure perspective was shown.
From a contact-tracing standpoint, figuring out exactly how COVID-19 spread during a protest is a nightmarish task, so epidemiologists are asking protesters to quarantine for 14 days and get tested about 5 days later and then about 5 days after that.
Epidemiologists are concerned about contagion. Studies show an asymptomatic coronavirus patient can emit more infectious droplets when speaking loudly or shouting. Epidemiologists were also concerned about the use of tear gas damaging people’s lower airways and prompting people to wipe their eyes and nose.
Ayodele Gomih, an epidemiologist who was a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Miami, said protesting against police brutality is necessary even during the coronavirus pandemic.
“We’re in two pandemics disproportionately impacting African Americans,” Gomih said. “This COVID-19 is claiming our lives and then we have police brutality, both fueled by racism.”
Gomih runs MoveLoveArt, a nonprofit organization, and she volunteers for Dream Defenders, an activist organization “fighting for a world without prisons, policing, surveillance and punishment.”
She and other community activists said the city’s unemployment, lack of access to affordable housing, and the astronomical cost of healthcare and higher education are also affecting young people in South Florida.
“There are more black and brown who are working those low-wage service jobs,” Gomih said. “Folks who are taking to the streets and saying, ‘I demand more! I want more because me, my family, my community deserves more!’ I can’t argue with that. This is what protesting is for ... people want to live healthy lives.”
Gomih said she wants protesters to remember that marches are just one form of activism. People can donate to causes they care about, join organizations, register to vote and elect public officials who represent their values.