Protests have Tenn. doctor "doubly concerned" for African Americans and COVID-19

Published: Jun. 4, 2020 at 9:04 PM EDT
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As thousands of people mobilize in protests across the country, assembling in massive crowds and gathering for marches to demand justice for George Floyd, many wonder how the movement could affect the spread of COVID-19.

One of Tennessee's top doctors told

he's concerned for a number of reasons.

"So many people gathered so close together for a prolonged period of time, and they're chanting and shouting, and expressing themselves. I'm afraid that's an environment where the virus could really spread," Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, said.

Dr. Schaffner, who is the current Medical Director and past president of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, said he was even more worried for a specific group of people.

"I was doubly concerned because, understandably, a lot of the participants are people of color. And of course, that's a population that has been already disproportionately affected by this virus, and I was concerned that anybody might bring this virus home with them, spread it to their families and to their neighbors."

According to CBS News, COVID-19 has taken a heavy toll on the African American community. Hypertension, obesity and diabetes are more common among African Americans and a new study reported that those underlying conditions can put a coronavirus patient at higher risk.

Dr. Schaffner was encouraged to see many people wearing masks.

"And of course it was out of doors so that reduces the risk. But nonetheless, that's still an awful lot of people together."

What effect could continued protests have on the spread of COVID-19?

"I anticipate that here or there, perhaps not everywhere, there might be an increase in covert infections, as a consequence of these demonstrations, which are going on night after night after night," said Dr. Schaffner.

He said he expected Tennessee to be less affected than many other areas of the country.

Copyright 2020 WVLT News. All rights reserved.

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