Protests that gathered large numbers of people on Long Island following the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd failed to produce a feared outbreak in coronavirus cases, according to infection and hospitalization data.
Since last May, thousands of protesters angered by Floyd's death have taken to the streets across Long Island, from government buildings in Mineola and Hauppauge to the restaurants and bars of Freeport’s Nautical Mile, to the main thoroughfare in tony Bridgehampton.
Other protests occurred across Long Island, in Syosset, Lindenhurst, West Hempstead, Smithtown, Hewlett and Merrick. There have even been counter-demonstrations, as well as a protest earlier in May over Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's social distancing orders in Commack.
Over the course of the month, health experts and governmental leaders expressed concern that the massing of people — often seen close together and sometimes not wearing masks — might add to the spread of COVID-19 disease.
"If you were at a protest I would assume you're exposed," Cuomo said in early June about large New York City demonstrations.
Those concerns have not been borne out on Long Island, where the numbers of new confirmed coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths all continued trending downward throughout June.
In Suffolk, the average number of new cases identified per day declined from 88 in the week before the protests began to 54 in the two weeks after they began.
Over the seven days ending June 30, the most recent data available, there was an average of 38 cases identified per day in Nassau and 46 cases per day in Suffolk.
On May 31, Nassau hospitalizations stood at 298 coronavirus patients while Suffolk's count was 247. As of June 30, there were 60 COVID-19 patients in Nassau and 71 patients in Suffolk.
Anthony Santella, a Hofstra University assistant professor of public health, said most of the Long Island demonstrations were “peaceful protests,” with those yelling or chanting usually wearing masks.
Even those without masks or close together may have been aided by being out on the street, he said, where wind and sun could prevent the virus from spreading.
“The average person is better off being outdoors, which is safer than an indoor event,” Santella explained.
Jaymie Meliker, a professor of public health at Stony Brook University, said he was heartened that the protests didn’t lead to increased virus infections. “I saw a lot of people wearing masks,” he said.
Meliker said there was an initial concern of further COVID-19 spread — especially during the two-week virus incubation period following these protests — but that enough people apparently took sufficient precautions.
At the same time, some demonstrators may have been infected while protesting yet have not sought testing for COVID-19 because they experienced no symptoms or only mild symptoms.
“A lot of them have been younger so maybe they were less likely to get the severe form of the disease,” Meliker added. “Those are all good things.”
With Matt Clark