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Wisconsin Spotlight | June 5, 2020

MADISON — Many of the same public health officials that have called for lockdowns to stop the spread of COVID-19 now are justifying the massive gatherings of protests against police brutality.


Because the protests are “vital to the national public health.”

At least that’s what more than 1,000 public health experts declare in a signed open letter  on the mass protests following the death of George Floyd, a black man who died at the hands of a white Minneapolis police officer.

“…(A)s as public health advocates, we do not condemn these gatherings as risky for COVID-19 transmission,” the letter states.

“White supremacy is a lethal public health issue that predates and contributes to COVID-19,” according to the letter.

At least three of the health professionals work in Wisconsin government — David Charles Mallinson, University of Wisconsin-Madison; Leigh Senderowicz, ScD MPH, University of Wisconsin-Madison; and Megan Lasure, MPH, Wisconsin State Laboratory of Hygiene.

People who demonstrated against state-wide lockdowns were heavily criticized for putting their lives and others in peril by gathering in large numbers. The Evers administration and local health officials in Wisconsin warned of a spike in COVID-19 cases following anti-lockdown protests in Madison and elsewhere in the state. Cities like Madison, Milwaukee and Racine extended stay-at-home orders even after the Wisconsin Supreme Court effectively declared such state edicts invalid. Social distancing and gathering restrictions remain in place, even at places of worship in Wisconsin.

“Many people all over the country were prevented from properly mourning lost loved ones because policymakers and health officials limited public funerals to just 10 people,” wrote Robby Soave, in Reason.com. “For months, public health officials urged people to stay inside and avoid gathering in large groups; at their behest, governments closed American businesses, discouraged non-essential travel, and demanded that we resist the basic human instinct to seek out companionship, all because COVID-19 could hurt us even if we were being careful, even if we were going to a funeral rather than a nightclub.”

But demonstrators for “social justice’ and law enforcement reform appear to get a reprieve from the health experts on the public letter.

“Staying at home, social distancing, and public masking are effective at minimizing the spread of COVID-19. To the extent possible, we support the application of these public health best practices during demonstrations that call attention to the pervasive lethal force of white supremacy,” the letter states.

Critics say it’s a dangerous double-standard. A Medpage Today headline last month warned, “COVID-19 killing African Americans at shocking rate.” 

“In Louisiana, African Americans accounted for 70% of COVID-19 deaths, while comprising 33% of the population. In Michigan, they accounted for 14% of the population and 40% of deaths, and in Chicago, 56% of deaths and 30% of the population. In New York, black people are twice as likely as white people to die from the coronavirus,” the piece noted.

In late March, blacks made up 70 percent of patients with the coronavirus in Milwaukee. As of last week, the percentage was half of that, while about 37 percent of cases involved Milwaukee’s Hispanic community, according to Urban Milwaukee.

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