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CDC director: Protesters should be tested for COVID-19

Officials say coughing from tear gas may help the virus spread

A demonstrator runs from tear gas Thursday, May 28, 2020, in St. Paul, Minn. Protests over the death of George Floyd, a black man who died in police custody, broke out in Minneapolis for a third straight night. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
A demonstrator runs from tear gas Thursday, May 28, 2020, in St. Paul, Minn. Protests over the death of George Floyd, a black man who died in police custody, broke out in Minneapolis for a third straight night. (AP Photo/John Minchillo) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

If you've marched in any recent protests, you may want to consider getting tested for the coronavirus.

That's the recommendation of the director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who said during a House Appropriations hearing on Thursday that anyone who participated should "highly consider" getting tested.

"I do think there is a potential, unfortunately, for this to be a seeding event," Dr. Robert Redfield said during Thursday's hearing on the coronavirus response. He said the risk of infection is higher in major cities where there's been significant transmission. To prevent transmission, Redfield suggested people who attend protests tell their loved ones that they were out in public and get tested within 3 to 7 days.

The CDC director also pointed to the use of tear gas by police as something that may help the virus spread.

In an exchange with Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI), Redfield said the tear gas, which law enforcement has used against protesters in several cities, can cause people to cough -- an effective way for coronavirus to spread.

"Definitely, coughing can spread respiratory viruses, including Covid-19," Redfield said.

Pocan asked Redfield if he'd advised the president or worked with law enforcement to discontinue the use of tear gas during the pandemic.

"I think you raised an important point we have advocated strongly -- the ability to have face coverings and masks available to protesters, so that they can at least have those coverings," he said.

Redfield said he'd "pass this comment to the next Task Force meeting."

The Task Force meets more infrequently now that all 50 states have reopened to some degree. The last Task Force meeting was held last week.

Officials fear protests could cause surge in coronavirus cases

State officials have expressed fear that coronavirus could spread rapidly during protests, which were prompted by George Floyd's death in police custody. Floyd's autopsy found that he, too, had tested positive for coronavirus the month before his death.

Protests began the same week that the US hit another grim milestone -- 100,000 coronavirus deaths and counting.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz said he's deeply concerned about a "super-spreader type of incident" and that the spike in Covid-19 cases is inevitable.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he supports protesters' rights but they have a duty to protect themselves and others.

"You have a right to demonstrate; you have a right to protest," Cuomo said last weekend. "You don't have a right to infect other people, you don't have a right to act in a way that's going to jeopardize public health."

He urged protesters to demonstrate with masks on.