The protests will spread the coronavirus

“I don’t think there’s a question of whether there will be spikes in cases in 10 to 14 days,” Mark Shrime, a public-health researcher at Harvard, told me. “With so many protests happening, that are getting so much bigger, I don’t think it’s a question of if, but when and where.”

Maimuna Majumder, a computational epidemiologist at Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, agrees. “All things considered, there’s little doubt that these protests will translate into increased risk of transmission for COVID-19,” she told me by email.

Yet that risk does not lead Majumder to oppose the protests. “I personally believe that these particular protests—which demand justice for black and brown bodies that have been brutalized by the police—are a necessary action,” she said. “Structural racism has been a public-health crisis for much longer than the pandemic has.” Even the COVID-19 pandemic has harmed black people disproportionately, Majumder told me. While about 13 percent of Americans are black, a quarter of all COVID-19 deaths where the victim’s race is known have befallen black people, according to the COVID Racial Data Tracker.

Alexandra Phelan, a professor of global-health law at Georgetown University, also told me she believed that the protests were justifiable, even amid the public-health crisis. She drew a difference between these protests, against police brutality, and the protests earlier this spring, which opposed mask mandates and social-distancing rules.