COVID-19 poses a serious health threat to individuals of all ages. While older adults and people with chronic conditions such as diabetes and obesity are more likely to become seriously ill, some young, otherwise healthy people end up in the hospital too. We are still learning more every week about why some people with no health problems become very ill, and there are likely risk factors we still don’t know about.
We do know that SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, is spread through the air when people talk, yell, sing, cough, or sneeze. Staying 6 feet apart from other people is helpful, and if everyone wears a mask it decreases the risk for everyone in the community.
The protests against racism and police brutality following the death of George Floyd in police custody continue across the U.S. His death ignited a powerful political movement, which is already resulting in real change to government and institutional policy. This is an important cause, and the momentum of the current movement is an opportunity for change that will not yield to the pandemic.
It is worth noting that the pandemic and police brutality and racism are interrelated issues. Black Americans are more likely to become seriously ill or die from COVID-19 due to racial disparities in health outcomes, which are caused by unequal access to services including healthcare. Black Americans also have been disproportionately affected by job losses during the pandemic. Racial injustice is a complex, multifaceted issue, but it affects all American either directly or indirectly. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
If you chose to physically participate in the demonstrations, here are some pointers to help reduce the risk to your own health:
Testing for current COVID-19 infection with a PCR test is helpful to determine if you are in the early stages of infection (pre-symptomatic), or if you are an asymptomatic carrier — a person who feels fine but can spread the virus to others. This type of test will not be positive until 5–7 days after exposure to the virus on average, so I recommend waiting about a week after protesting to come in for the swab.
The other type of test available for COVID-19, serology testing which detects IgG antibodies against the virus, is less helpful after recent exposure. Serology testing shows evidence of a past COVID-19 infection by checking your blood for evidence of your body’s immune response to the virus. This type of test takes about 2 weeks to become positive and doesn’t tell us if you may still be able to spread the infection to others (but the PCR test does).
If you are interested in getting tested, schedule a COVID-19 video assessment to discuss which type of test would be best for your situation and how results should be interpreted.
Have questions about screening tests after reading news about high rates of false positive test results? Read An Explanation of the Risks and Benefits of Screening Tests.
If you have read about positive and negative predictive values and want to know how these values are calculated using the prevalence of COVID-19 in a population:
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
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