Updated: Mar 17
The opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the authors.
With the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, fueled by the death of George Floyd, juxtaposed with the rise of the notorious Coronavirus, many wonder which issue to prioritize. Does the necessity for systemic change in our country outweigh the devastating nature of COVID-19? Have the protests catalyzed a spike in the cases of COVID-19? What have the protests accomplished? What about the second wave? In Lenses first edition of “A Bit of Nuance,” two writers, Parth Mishra and Samir Chowdhury answer all these questions and more to allow you, the reader, to make an informed decision on how to act on the pertinent events in our nation.
The Detriments of COVID-19 Outweighs the Necessity for Change Parth Mishra
The Necessity for Change Outweighs the Detriments of COVID-19 Samir Chowdhury
On History: Pandemics in America In the past, the United States has faced pandemics besides the novel coronavirus. The last pandemic that the U.S. faced, of comparable scale to the current one, was the Spanish Flu of 1918. As the first cases of the Spanish Flu emerged in the U.S., cities took preventive measures to try to mitigate the impact of the deadly virus. Philadelphia’s Director of Public Health at the time, Dr. Wilmer Krusen, attributed the rising death toll to the normal flu as opposed to the Spanish Flu. As a result, Dr. Krusen allowed a city-wide parade to continue as planned which led to the infection of nearly 200,000 citizens. Only then did Philadelphia launch campaigns to prevent coughing, spitting, or sneezing in public. Because of the rising death toll and infection rate, Philadelphia closed many public places such as movie theaters, churches, and schools.The Spanish Flu ended a year later as a result of the practice of social isolation and people developing immunity over time. After all was said and done, roughly 675,000 Americans died as a result of the Spanish Flu.
On History: Protests in America From the historic Boston Tea Party to the famous March on Washington where Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream Speech,” the people of America have never been afraid to protest for their beliefs to enact change. From the independence of our country to the enactment of laws supporting racial equality, it has been seen time and time again that these movements can amass immense groups of people, all fighting for a joint cause, and accomplish tangible change. In the age of COVID-19, the concerns for social distancing have been heard around the globe. With vast media coverage of the virus, the movement to “flatten the curve” forces activists to social quarantine. However, in the U.S., a country founded on the basis of racial inequality and the suppression of groups of color, now more than ever there is a need to bolster the fight for a cause that dates back to the 17th century when slaves were first brought to America.
On Protesting: Alternate Methods of Protesting Physical protesting is just one method to enact civil change. During the coronavirus pandemic, physical protesting methods such as marches and rallies promote the spread of the coronavirus. Although there has been no reported spike in coronavirus cases attributed to the protests, the number of cases may still be increasing. A majority of protesters are young or people who are not considered at-risk. While this may seem insignificant, younger people generally experience less severe symptoms, so they are less likely to get tested. As of June 24, 2020, according to the California Department of Health, 38.3% of coronavirus cases are people under the age of 34. Moreover, the percentage is not fully indicative of the spread of the virus because similar to most states, California, in an effort to conserve coronavirus tests, tests low-risk asymptotic people at a lower frequency than other groups. In order to prevent the undetected mass spread of coronavirus as a result of large-scale physical protests, alternative methods of protest such as petitions, social media campaigns, and writing to elected officials should be utilized.
On Protesting: Need to Protest Now A national movement fueled by the necessity to resolve the systemic racism in America was sparked by the brutal murder of George Floyd, an African American male, on May 25th in Minneapolis. Floyd was suffocated to death by a police officer for seemingly no valid reason. His last words, “I can’t breathe,” became the message of a national chorus seeking justice for his death and African Americans facing the groundbreaking stabs of the dagger that is systemic racism. With cities flooded with Americans infuriated by the racism embedded in the roots of the country, many have argued that these protests would prove more detrimental than beneficial due to the novel coronavirus — demonstrating a complete disregard and belittlement of the drastic need for change to solve a human rights issue that has plagued our country for centuries. In a nation, where a group of humans have been enslaved, killed, and discriminated against due solely to the color of their skin, it is indisputable that this crime against humanity takes precedence over other issues, no matter the scale. In the 21st century where online media opens the door for digital forms of protest, many lie in complacency after signing a petition or posting a graphic on their social media account. Although social media platforms allow for the accumulation of thousands of signatures supporting movements around the world, nothing compares to the ability of hundreds of in-the-flesh protesters requesting the enactment of policy changes. In fact, statistics have shown that these mass gatherings of millions of people across the nation have not affected the current status of COVID-19 in the United States.
On Quarantine: Importance of Quarantine According to data extrapolated from The COVID Tracking Project created by The Atlantic Monthly Group, the number of coronavirus cases is increasing in a majority of states. In states that have begun to reopen public facilities, there has been a noted increase in COVID-19 cases. For example, Florida, which has reopened many businesses and its renowned beaches, has set the record for a daily increase in coronavirus cases. Florida, as of June 26, 2020, has 122,960 coronavirus cases, making Florida one of the states with the most coronavirus case. As seen in Florida, coronavirus remains a serious threat that will continue to spread unless people continue to social distance and self-quarantine. Furthermore, quarantine is especially important for people of color. Although enacting social change through protest is admirable, African Americans are disproportionately affected by the virus, and though they only comprise 13% of the population, they make up 23% of the reported coronavirus deaths where race is known. As such, alternate forms of protests must be used in order to ensure the safety of people of color.
On Quarantine: Why Protesting Is More Important Than Quarantine According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, after profound analysis of 315 of the most populated cities across America, there was no spike in the cases of COVID-19 at all since the initiation of the Black Lives Matter protests. The Bureau concludes that the notions regarding the idea that the protests would be a public health risk due to the virus are, in fact, “too narrowly conceived”. Thus, it is scientifically evident that the necessity for change in our country should not be deterred by possible detriments of COVID-19, with government organizations finding zero exacerbation of the virus. Furthermore, due to the political awareness of most protesters, many are conscious of the dangers of the virus and wear masks and stand apart to mitigate its spread. With the fear of contracting COVID-19 out the window, protesters should continue to prioritize uplifting the message behind the BLM movement and participating in radical protests to bring about change to the systemic racism in the United States.
On Uniqueness: How Coronavirus Is Different A common theme during the coronavirus pandemic is that it is unlike anything the world has seen before. While observed in other viruses, the coronavirus originated in animals then spread to humans which is a behavior previously not observed in viruses of the same family like SARS and MERS. Moreover, the wide range of symptoms caused by COVID-19 makes it difficult to distinguish from common infections such as Influenza. For example, some of the symptoms of the coronavirus are fever, dry cough, tiredness, which could be caused by a number of common viruses. The range of symptoms is not the only unique aspect to the virus. The virus can also be spread both asymptotically and symptomatically which means that a person could have and spread the virus regardless of experiencing symptoms or not. Another unique aspect to the virus is that the incubation period is 14 days. This means that it could take up to 14 days before an infected person begins to experience symptoms. The combination of these aspects makes the novel coronavirus unlike anything that has been seen before. Even though the Floyd protests are also unique, the threat posed by the novel coronavirus far outweighs the potential change that the protests could create.
On Uniqueness: What the Protests Have Achieved This Time With the BLM movement already achieving staggering tangible change, and over 100,000 people, a vast majority, recovering from COVID-19, there is no reason for mass protests to deescalate going into the future. With the fear of a second wave, it is important to note that “the number of mild cases is [likely] higher than 80%”, says Andre Sofair of Yale Medicine. Sofair adds that “even those with severe heart disease or diabetes may make a good recovery after four or six days”. With all that the protests have accomplished, it is crucial for past milestones to catalyze further protests and foster a continuous cycle of change in our country. In two weeks alone, the protests have led to Minneapolis dismantling its police system, the creation of a database to keep records of police brutality, the toppling of numerous Confederate monuments, and proposed police reform in both Congress and states. Lawmakers in several states around the country have even outright banned the employment of choke holds and tear gas utilized by police in the death of George Floyd and protests. These reforms in our society underscore the significance of protests and brighten the light at the end of the tunnel for ending racism and other problems afflicting America.