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Latest testing shows no big spike in COVID-19 cases due to protests, as thousands wear masks

Alan Boyle
Thousands of protesters take part in a “March of Silence” in Seattle on Friday afternoon, the vast majority wearing masks. (GeekWire Photo / Monica Nickelsburg)

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan’s office says it’s seeing no evidence so far that protesters are testing positive for COVID-19 at higher rates than normal after attending protests.

In an online update, mayoral spokesperson Kamaria Hightower wrote that “results are in from UW Medicine, and out of 3,000 tests, fewer than 1% were positive.”

Hightower provided further detail in a follow-up email to GeekWire. “For the free citywide testing results, less than 1% have returned positive,” she wrote. “Individuals are not required to share their history of attending demonstrations; however, a field on the appointment software form does ask your reason for attending, and some have cited their reasoning as having attended a protest.”

For the past two weeks, demonstrators have been gathering in Seattle daily to protest police brutality in the wake of the May 25 killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Thousands turned out today for a “March of Silence” from Seattle’s Central District to the Beacon Hill neighborhood.

It’s still early to gauge the full effect of large-scale protests on the coronavirus pandemic. After exposure to the virus, it can take as long as two or three weeks for COVID-19 cases to show up in the statistics, epidemiologists say.

UW Medicine’s Virology Lab reported that it had its biggest day for COVID-19 testing on Thursday, and found that 2.3% of the 4,536 PCR tests came back positive.

The mayor’s office emphasized existing guidance that people who attend large gatherings should seek testing afterward if they’re experiencing any symptoms — including fever or chills, cough, shortness of breath, body aches or a recent loss of taste or smell — or if they determine that they’ve come in close contact with someone who has COVID-19.

Tests are available through health care providers or at free community testing sites.

People at large gatherings are also advised to wear a face covering, avoid physical contact and wash hands regularly. Today, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it “strongly encourages” wearing a mask at large events where people might raise their voice for shouting, chanting or singing.

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