© 2022 | Jefferson Public Radio
Southern Oregon University
1250 Siskiyou Blvd.
Ashland, OR 97520
541.552.6301 | 800.782.6191
KSOR Header background image 1
a service of Southern Oregon University
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Did Black Lives Matter Demonstrations Lead To Oregon's COVID-19 Spike? Not So Much.

More than a thousand protesters gathered in Portland in the third week of widespread demonstrations against structural racism and police violence on June 15, 2020.
More than a thousand protesters gathered in Portland in the third week of widespread demonstrations against structural racism and police violence on June 15, 2020.

The Oregon Health Authority says anti-racism demonstrations and protests against police brutality are not significant contributors to the rise in COVID-19 cases around the state.

During a Friday morning press conference, Oregon State Health Officer Dr. Dean Sidelinger said that although some individuals who tested positive reported they did attend demonstrations, the agency has not seen large clusters in cases or gathered evidence of transmission in these settings.

The city of Portland is nearing 30 days of Black Lives Matter demonstrations and mass gatherings to protest racism and police brutality — and COVID-19 symptoms usually take two to 14 days to appear after someone is infected.

Sidelinger said the spike in cases is stemming primarily from smaller social gatherings with friends and families or from transmissions in the workplace.

“Protests and demonstrations may be a contributing factor, but evidence and case investigations just don’t show that driving these large numbers,” Sidelinger said.

Evidence that the protests so far have not been a major caseload driver runs counter to concerns early on. In the first week, political and public health leaders voiced concerns that the mass gatherings could hasten the spread of the coronavirus, especially among people of color who have been driving the movement — and whose communities have already taken a disproportionate brunt of the the cases.

He advises that people attending mass gatherings maintain physical distance if possible and wear a face covering.

Multnomah County Health Officer Dr. Jennifer Vines said the low number of cases from protests may indicate that face coverings work.

“We know from evolving science that a face covering, when worn properly, protects both the wearer and those nearby,” Vines said in an emailed statement to OPB. “Being outdoors also lessens the chance of spreading the virus.”

But Vines said the low number of people infected by attending large gatherings doesn't necessarily mean that they are safe to attend.

“Close, prolonged contact with people outside your household carries risk and the more people you are with, the more often you are mixing, the greater the risk,” Vines said.

Vines said the county continues to strongly urge people not to gather in large social groups, especially indoors.

Copyright 2020 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Monica Samayoa is a reporter with OPB’s Science & Environment unit. Before OPB, Monica was an on-call general assignment reporter at KQED in San Francisco. She also helped produce The California Report and KQED Newsroom. Monica holds a bachelor's degree in Broadcast and Electronic Communication Arts from San Francisco State University.