Protesting Safely During COVID-19
Authors' note: These are safety precautions that COVID-19 GCA Mutual Aid encourages you to take if you plan to protest in the next couple of months. The authors of this article are not licensed public health professionals and cannot be held liable for any harm or injury you might sustain from attending a protest.
The recent death of George Perry Floyd by the hands of police officer Derek Chauvin in Minneapolis, Minnesota has sparked protests in all 50 states over America’s handling of police brutality. Given that there are over 2.3 million cases of COVID-19 nationwide, if you decide to join a local protest, COVID-19 GCA Mutual Aid encourages you to take appropriate safety precautions to stay healthy during this unprecedented time.
***If you feel sick or are experiencing mild symptoms of COVID-19 including sneezing, coughing, fever or chills, shortness of breath, nausea, or loss of taste or smell, DO NOT PROTEST. While support for the Black Lives Movement (BLM) is important, you may risk infecting dozens of people with COVID-19 if you decide to protest. Also consider sitting this protest out if you are living with someone deemed “high-risk” (the elderly or people with medical conditions). Check out a variety of other ways to demonstrate your support for the BLM movement here.
What Should You Bring to the Protests?
1. Face Masks (Bring Extra!)
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everyone wears either a facemask or some sort of cloth covering over their nose and mouth. This will drastically decrease your chances of being infected with COVID-19, as the disease is mainly transmitted through respiratory droplets that are inhaled in the lungs from your nose and mouth. Make sure to bring extra for other protesters in case they forget!
Moreover, masks may prevent police from recognizing and keeping facial records.
Don’t have a face mask?
Create your own! Follow this simple 1 minute tutorial to create your own facemask with common items lying around your house, or check out the “How to Make a Protective Mask” tab under the “Resources” heading on our website.
Request one from Covaid! Ask for homemade masks from our volunteers through covaid.
2. Water. As protests will likely carry on for hours, it is extremely important to stay hydrated. Temperatures in Charlotte, North Carolina have reached up to 90°F in the past few days, and you will likely be chanting and shouting while marching. Try to bring the biggest water bottle you can carry in your bag. We also recommend getting water bottles with a squirt cap to flush out any chemicals or dirt.
3. Hand Sanitizer. Keeping hand sanitizer in your bag will likely come in handy. Despite social distancing requirements of being six feet apart from other people, you might find yourself coming into direct contact with other protesters, policemen, and protest signs. Someone might also sneeze or cough in your direction. In these cases, when you can’t wash your hands with soap, hand sanitizer is the next best solution. The CDC recommends using hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol to kill COVID-19. Use hand sanitizer often, especially after touching unknown surfaces.
***The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warns against the use of hand sanitizer made by Eskbiochem which contains methanol. Significant methanol exposure may cause permanent blindness, coma, and potentially even death.
1. Signs. Holding signs effectively gets your message across without having to repeatedly shout. Tal Abbady from The Washington Post explains that less chanting and yelling, which projects potentially infected droplets, will decrease the likelihood of transmitting COVID-19 to your fellow protesters.
2. Eye Protection (Goggles or Face Shield). Although the evidence is not fully conclusive, initial evidence demonstrates that eye protection may reduce your chances of being infected from 16% to 6%, as infected droplets can enter your eyes and get into the lungs. If you are unable to find eye protection, make sure not to touch your eyes until you’ve either applied hand sanitizer or washed your hands thoroughly with soap and water for 20 seconds. In case of emergency, make sure to bring eye drops!
3. Hats and Long Sleeves. Try to cover up your skin as much as possible to protect yourself from sunlight and potentially any chemical weapons (tear gas, pepper spray) the police may use.
4. Latex or Plastic Gloves. If you need to flush out tear gas or dust out of your eyes, nose, or mouth, make sure to wear latex or plastic gloves to prevent any chance of infection.
5. Basic first aid kit and medication (epipen, insulin, inhaler). According to the United Kingdom National Health Service (NHS), a basic first aid kit should include: adhesive bandages, sterile gauze dressings, alcohol-free cleansing wipes, and painkillers.
1. Bandanas soaked in vinegar or water. A bandana soaked in apple-cider vinegar or lemon juice may provide temporary protection against chemicals. Dilute the vinegar (50% water and 50% vinegar) and keep them in a plastic bag to carry. However, some sources claim that vinegar gives little protection, so try to stick with gas masks or other protective masks if possible.
2. Fresh Clothes in a ZipLock. If you are tear gassed, you may want to change—a clean pair of clothes in a ZipLock will help prevent contamination from any sort of chemicals that you've already been exposed to.
3. ID and Emergency Contact Info. Be sure to bring some sort of ID and write down (on a notecard or on your body with a washable pen) the emergency contact info of someone you trust in case your phone dies.
4. Money for Emergency Transportation, Pay-Phone, and Food. Amnesty USA recommends you to bring cash in case you need to quickly pay for transportation, a pay-phone (if your phone dies), and food.
What Should You NOT Bring to the Protests?
1. Oil-Based Cosmetics. Vaseline, oil based moisturizers, lotions, sunscreen, and other products that cling onto your skin can trap chemicals and worsen the irritation from tear gas powers.
2. Contact Lenses or Eye Makeup. Contact lenses can trap contaminated chemicals (such as tear gas or pepper spray) between the lens and your eyes. Wear glasses or goggles instead. Moreover, eye makeup can easily splatter everywhere if you get tear gassed or hit in the face.
3. Jewelry or Loose Clothing. Jewelry and loose clothing can easily get snagged on anything—a protester’s sign or someone’s bag, for example. Earrings can easily get pulled on or even ripped out during the protest (especially if there is a confrontation of any sort).
What Should You Do During the Protest?
1. Social Distancing. Try your best to stay at least 6 feet apart from other protesters. If the situation doesn’t permit social distancing, it is important to keep your facemask and your eye protection on at all times.
2. Limit Physical Contact. Although it may be tempting to shake hands, hug, or talk with fellow protesters in support of a righteous cause, doing so risks you and your friend’s safety. Feel free to chat and or video call with others through social media on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, after the protest!
3. Stay Away from Rubber Bullets and Pepper Sprays. Learn more about these weapons.
1. Read Sanitation Protocols. Learn More.
2. Learn Your Rights from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Learn More.
3. Know When to Talk to the Police. Learn more.
Stay safe out there!