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From Protests to Parties: Why Gathering in Groups Is a Terrible Idea Right Now

  • Despite warning that gathering in groups can contribute to the spread of COVID-19, people are meeting in large numbers for parties, beach days, and political protests.
  • The spread of COVID-19 has been linked to social gatherings.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has referred to such gatherings as “super-spreading events.”
  • Health experts warn a rush to reopen the country could be disastrous and undo the progress that’s been made in the fight against COVID-19.

Public health officials and experts continue to insist that failing to follow physical distancing guidelines and convening in large groups is high-risk behavior that can quickly transmit the novel coronavirus to numerous people.

This includes attending crowded beaches, religious services, and public protests.

Recently, public beaches were reopened in Florida, attracting large crowds and protests erupted in multiple states against lockdown measures enacted to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Images of protestors were abundant this week, as they assembled outside governors’ offices and other public spaces, many of them disregarding basic precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19, like wearing face masks and maintaining 6 feet of distance between participants.

Many protesters at these events claimed the worst ravages of COVID-19 are now behind us, and they believe it’s now time to reopen the country.

But Dr. Anthony Fauci, the United States’ leading infectious disease expert publicly censured the protests, stating that they would “backfire.”

“Clearly this is something that is hurting from the standpoint of economics and the standpoint of things that have nothing to do with the virus, but unless we get the virus under control, the real recovery economically is not going to happen,” Fauci told “Good Morning America.”

Fauci and other public health officials say the algebra of reopening the country is far more complex than it seems.

What is obvious, they say, is that meeting in a large group, while disregarding basic safety precautions is absolutely not the way to go about reopening the country.

Gathering in groups could prolong the pandemic and further its reach

“What we worry about when these groups come together, whether it’s a church service or house party or a trip to the beach or otherwise is that somebody in that group may actually be positive and contagious and if they are, there’s a good chance that somebody else that’s with them could possibly get sick,” Dr. Richard Martinello, medical director of infection prevention for Yale New Haven Hospital and Yale New Haven Health System, told Healthline.

Numerous incidents this month have highlighted this danger, and further served to emphasize the importance of social distancing.

In Virginia, a prominent bishop who defied stay-at-home orders and resisted calls to suspend services at the New Deliverance Evangelistic Church, subsequently died after becoming infected with COVID-19.

Bishop Gerald Glenn famously told his congregation that “God is larger than this dreaded virus,” and that he would continue to preach unless he was “in jail or the hospital.” Glenn’s wife also tested positive for the virus.

The spread of COVID-19 also continues to be linked to parties and social gatherings, which, in some cases, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has referred to as “super-spreading events.”

The CDC called attention to one such incident earlier this month. A single individual with mild respiratory symptoms is believed to have been responsible for infecting 16 people with COVID-19 after attending a pair of family gatherings: a birthday party and a funeral.

Three of those infected later died.

The incident, according to the CDC report, illustrates “the importance of social distancing for preventing SARS-CoV-2 transmission, even within families,” and further enforces public health recommendations to avoid gatherings.

Much of the lingering danger associated with COVID-19 is its stealthy ability to appear mild or asymptomatic in many individuals while still remaining contagious.

In a study published in the journal Nature, researchers found that people with only minor symptoms, such as low-grade fever and minor cough, were most symptomatic early on.

“This is a really tough virus to detect in many cases,” Dr. Vincent Hsu, MPH, a board certified internal medicine, infectious diseases, and preventive medicine physician at AdventHealth in Orlando, told Healthline.

“There is a larger percentage of patients who are not showing symptoms who are asymptomatic who can carry it and transmit it to other people. Obviously if you don’t have symptoms it’s hard to know who’s infected and who’s healthy,” he said.

COVID-19 is an aggressively contagious disease

It is generally understood to be more contagious than influenza, but less so than other catastrophic infectious diseases like measles and smallpox.

“Generally it’s thought that for every single person that’s sick somewhere between two to four people will become ill from that one person,” said Martinello. “So there’s really a multiplier effect, where just one additional person who gets sick can lead to potentially tens, hundreds, or even thousands of new cases as it perpetuates through a community.”

And Martinello warns, yes, it’s still out there, even if it isn’t obvious.

That’s what makes reopening the economy and society so tricky. It’s also what makes meeting in groups right now, to protest, party, or whatever, a serious liability.

Physical distancing is slowing the spread of COVID-19

Projections have shown that physical distancing works. Americans have flattened the curve. Deaths from COVID-19 and hospital resources allocated to fighting it are now subsiding. We are now past “the peak.”

Nonetheless, the death toll continues to rise. In the United States, deaths associated with COVID-19 surpassed 50,000 this week, with more than 890,000 confirmed cases, according to the latest data from Johns Hopkins University.

A rush to reopen could be disastrous and undo the progress that’s been made.

“The curve of new cases is trending downward and that’s a good thing. However, we are not yet at the point where the public health experts, and I agree with them, believe this is sufficient to where we can start getting back together in large crowds,” said Hsu.

Many governors have been cautious in their desire to reopen, but no one has been more aggressive than Georgia Governor Brian Kemp.

Today, under Kemp’s orders, businesses across Georgia, including gyms, hair salons, bowling alleys, tattoo parlors, and barbershops, began to reopen. Restaurants and theaters will be allowed to reopen on April 27.

As businesses begin to open their doors again, Georgia’s death toll from COVID-19 is nearing 900, with the number of confirmed cases continuing to rise as well.

The state will likely serve as a case study for the rest of the country: a model of what aggressive reopening will look like. Only time will tell whether an economic push will outweigh the risks to citizens.

Both Hsu and Martinello are skeptical.

“We understand that there is a need to get people back to work. We understand that the economy needs to start reopening. But it has to be done in a very structured, deliberate way, said Hsu. “If it’s not done correctly… there could absolutely be the potential for a surge even worse than what we’re having now. Then the whole thing has to start all over again.”

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