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Contact tracers have found one person they believe became infected with the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 while attending a recent protest in Salt Lake County.
It’s the first case linked to the anti-police brutality demonstrations that have been ongoing in the city for nearly two weeks, Salt Lake County Health Department spokesperson Nicholas Rupp said Friday.
No known cases have been linked to other mass gatherings in the county, including a Utah Business Revival protest in mid-April and the group of people who met at the airport in late March to welcome home Latter-day Saint missionaries.
After a Salt Lake City protest that turned violent May 30, Dr. Angela Dunn, the state epidemiologist, said she worried about potential spread.
She told FOX 13, "From a public health perspective, the behaviors we saw at protests over the weekend were alarming. As our increasing case counts have indicated, we are nowhere near being out of the woods when it comes to the spread of COVID-19 in our communities. Large group gatherings, especially where social distancing is not feasible or not practiced, are simply not safe right now.”
Madalena McNeil, an organizer and volunteer with Salt Lake Valley COVID-19 Mutual Aid Group, said she was surprised that only one case had been connected to the protests so far, where people gather closely to march and chant.
Her group has been passing out masks, hand sanitizer, water bottles and other resources to demonstrators who need the items.
She said the prevalence of masks and people’s thoughtfulness about others attending the protests, many of whom are people of color who have been disproportionately affected by the disease, are likely reasons why more people haven’t contracted the disease.
“None of the folks are out there protesting want to get coronavirus, but people have seen the need and are feeling the urgency [of the movement], and are literally risking their lives to be out there,” she said, “and that’s why so many of them are wearing masks: for their own protestation and the protection of their community.”
Rupp said health officials theorize that community spread wasn’t seen after earlier mass gatherings because coronavirus infections rates weren’t as widespread then. Utah tallied 13,577 coronavirus cases Friday, with more than 5,500 active cases.
“I think as cases grow in Salt Lake County and Utah as a whole, it’s going to be even more important that we’re vigilant when we’re attending outdoor events,” he said.
Rupp recommended attendees wear a face covering and stay 6 feet away from others.
The most common coronavirus infection source in Utah — accounting for 59.3% of the cases where initial exposure is known — is from members of one’s own household, according to health department data.