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Tuesday, May 28, 2024
Morris McFadden

Morris McFadden, a 21-year-old telecommunications and production major and one of the organizers of the protest, shouts with the crowd of about 100 people June 3 at the intersection of 13th Street and University Avenue as part of a protest against police brutality.


As protesters took to the streets for Black lives, the number of COVID-19 cases in Alachua County soared. Alachua County health officials say it's not that simple.

Thousands of Gainesville protesters marched shoulder-to-shoulder to demonstrate against police brutality. Many attendees wore masks, but large gatherings still come with a greater risk of contracting and spreading COVID-19, said Paul Myers, an administrator at the county health department.

However, no confirmed cases of COVID-19 have been traced back to Black Lives Matter protests, he added. 

According to Myers, the statewide increase is linked to house parties and large gatherings of groups that don't adhere to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's guidelines. Additionally, the increase is a result of more testing taking place throughout the county, he said.

While more than 49,000 tests were conducted in the county, positive results have fluctuated between 2 and 8 percent in the last two weeks based on the timing of released results, Myers said.

There are now more than 2,000 COVID-19 cases in Alachua County, he said, with a median age of infections at 29 years old. Within the last month, people aged 15-24 began making up the majority of confirmed new positive COVID-19 cases.

Dr. Cindy Prins, a professor of epidemiology at UF, said there are three main components to assessing exposure to COVID-19: duration, distance and mask-wearing. Outdoor activities where mask-wearing and social distancing are followed are less risky, Prins said.

Prins said she believes widespread mask-wearing prevented an outbreak of the virus at the recent protests. The protests taking place outdoors didn't hurt either. Activities in enclosed spaces increase the risk in catching the virus, she said, because droplets linger and social distancing isn't always possible.

Contact tracing can determine the places a patient became infected in, Myers said. Health department staff question the patients about the locations they frequent and where they might have been exposed.

According to Myers, the county reports more than an 85 percent success rate in contacting people who tested positive. Positive individuals are required to quarantine for 14 days and receive calls from the health department every day, Myers said.

While no cases were linked to protests, experts like Prins recommend avoiding large gatherings and taking precautions: wear a face mask and respect social distancing.

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“There is most definitely still a reason to be scared,” she said.

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