No yelling, wear a mask: How George Floyd protests can be safe amid COVID-19

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Health experts say those taking to the streets to protest the death of George Floyd — a Black man who died after a white police officer knelt on his neck in Minnesota — should wear masks and practice social distancing to stay safe amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The protests, which began in Minneapolis, Minnesota last week, have now spread across the U.S., and abroad including to Canada.

In a series of tweets Monday evening, Canada’s chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, offered some safety advice, saying that when it comes to protesting amid the pandemic, “virtual protest is the safest bet.”

But Tam said that when that is not an option, demonstrators should bring hand sanitizer and clean their hands frequently.

Tam said protesters should also practise physical distancing, wear masks and use good “cough etiquette” — meaning coughing or sneezing into their elbow.

Anyone who is sick should stay home, she said.

However, Colin Furness, an infection control epidemiologist and assistant professor at the University of Toronto, said telling people to protest virtually is “not realistic.”

“This is a community in pain,” he said. “I am the last person ever to say ‘Yes, go out in a crowd,’ but I, in all good conscience, can’t say to people anything like protest virtually.”

He said that’s why it is “so important” to communicate how people can protest in the safest way possible.

Furness said that first and foremost, those looking to attend a protest should check the weather.

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