Wells: So I’ve been scrubbing my hands raw for nothing.
Hamblin: No, I wouldn’t say that. I think that the most common form of transmission is prolonged indoor close contact. So between relatives, family members, cell mates, and people who live in nursing homes. It is not from randomly touching a subway pole.
Wells: It just means that masks are even more important.
Hamblin: I would say so, yeah. When you’re protesting, outdoor transmission seems to be extremely limited. There are studies in restaurants now, inside churches, at a choir practice that show when groups get together in enclosed spaces indoors, and especially when they are singing and/or presumably yelling or chanting, that’s a dangerous scenario. But it becomes much less dangerous when you’re outdoors and you’re moving around.
Read: So, what can we do now?
Wells: There are no studies showing outdoor transmission?
Hamblin: Not to my knowledge. If you’re out having a picnic and you sit with someone for an hour and you’re real close to them, absolutely. You could definitely transmit it to them. But it is just much, much more safe than being indoors. The complicating thing I think about protesting too is that the idea is that when people are singing in a choir practice, you’re spewing a lot into the air. And a lot of people doing that simultaneously does increase the amount of respiratory droplets that are going to be floating around.
Wells: Right. I mean, I’ve been reading that epidemiologists are like, Wait two weeks and we’re going to see a spike all across the country. So they must expect that this isn’t completely safe.
Hamblin: I think you can do it safely. I think there’s going to be a lot of people who end up making conversation with someone, or getting up in someone’s face and having some kind of confrontation, or scenarios like that where there could be an act of transmission. If you are careful to avoid that and don’t fall into old ways of not social distancing just because you’re in this new headspace, then it can be done very safely.
Wells: So basically the key is just keep distance when you can and wear a mask?
Hamblin: It’s complicated like usual, but also [protesting] is not inherently what’s going to drive spikes in transmission.
Wells: Then why are epidemiologists talking about spikes in two weeks?
Hamblin: Well, I think these are really emotional and charged situations. And it feels like the urgency of this moment is such that everything else is irrelevant. And I think that’s where you start to worry about transmission. So, without adjudicating that, I would just say that for people who are worried that they can’t participate, there are ways to do it safely, and even if you want to be absolutely safe, I think there are ways to be at the periphery and be in supportive roles to people who are marching. It’s when these scenarios get intense and people feel threatened or caught up in a moment of urgency that they lose the sense of ability to protest safely. And that comes often from the escalation from people who are policing the protests.