BROOKSVILLE, Fla. — With thousands of people coming out to protest here in the bay area and across the country, health care professionals are worried about a potential increase in COVID-19 cases.

What You Need To Know

  • If taking part in a protest, people should wear a mask and gloves

  • Tampa Police Chief Dugan acknowledged difficulty officers have wearing masks under current conditions

  • Recommended also getting tested for COVID-19 if you've attended a protest

  • More coronavirus stories

“The risk is definitely higher,” said Brooksville Infectious Disease Specialist Dr. Vatsala Sastry.

Sastry explained protests provide many ways for people to be exposed to COVID-19.

“There’s a large number of people," she said. "They are closer together than usual. They are exposed to pepper sprays and tear gases and because of that they tend to cough more and sneeze."

She said everyone attending a protest should wear a mask and gloves to help protect themselves and others, noting that many people with the virus are asymptomatic.

“You have a person next to you who looks great, has nothing, but those are the ones that we are at the highest risk of,” she explained.

But that’s something Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan said isn’t always possible for officers on scene, noting five of his officers were exposed to someone with COVID-19 at the weekend protests.

“It’s difficult for cops to wear masks and work on the street," he said. "Sometimes you start sweating — it can block your vision."

“You can’t always speak and be heard when you’re wearing your mask, so it’s problematic for our cops when they’re out there engaging with people to wear them," Dugan went on. "It will be interesting to see how many people get exposed especially our first responders."

Sastry said it’s a good idea for anyone who has attended a protest to get tested for COVID-19 and self-quarantine for 14 days.

“Because they know they’ve been exposed to so many people it is a very good idea to stay at home to make sure they don’t develop fever, chills, cough, or any such thing,” she explained.

Tampa Mayor Jane Castor also echoed the importance of masks, asking everyone attending a protest to wear one to prevent the spread of the virus.

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