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Fauci says protesters are ‘taking a risk’ as coronavirus cases rise in many states

Dr. Fauci (The White House/Flickr)

The nation’s top public health expert expressed concern Wednesday about the spread of coronavirus at protests.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said during an interview on “Good Morning America” that the lack of social distancing at protests across the country is worrisome despite the use of masks seen in many instances.

“This issue of physical separation is important,” Fauci said on GMA. “Masks can help but it’s masks plus physical separation, and when you get congregations like we saw with the demonstrations, as we have said, myself and other health officials — that’s taking a risk.”

Protests sparked by the death of George Floyd have erupted across the country. Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, died while in police custody on Memorial Day after a now-fired Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee into his neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds.

Some protests have included clashes with police, thefts, fires and unrest. But the vast majority have been peaceful calls for change, officials tell ABC News.

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Multiple members of the D.C. National Guard who responded to protests in Washington have tested positive for the coronavirus, NBC News reported Tuesday.

On Wednesday, Fauci called the news “disturbing” but said it isn’t surprising.

“I wouldn’t be surprised that members of the congregation that were there demonstrating could also be infected and many of them will then go back to where they were because not everyone was demonstrating in the city where they live,” he said on GMA.

Fauci’s concerns come as many states in the U.S. are seeing a rise in new COVID-19 cases, CNN reports. Hospitalizations are also on the rise in some states, per The Washington Post.

Health experts have previously expressed concern about other mass gatherings across the country, such as those seen at beaches, lakes and other popular locations over Memorial Day weekend.

Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House Coronavirus Task Force coordinator, said over the holiday weekend she was “very concerned” over people going to crowded areas without maintaining social distancing or wearing face masks, McClatchy News reported.

It can take between two and 14 days for a person infected with COVID-19 to begin showing symptoms, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which could explain why states have just recently started to see spikes following holiday gatherings and the relaxing of restrictions.

Fauci said during the interview with “Good Morning America” that it’s important to still “practice a degree of caution” even as restrictions lift.

“That means you still should be wearing a mask, you still should be trying as best as possible to have that physical distancing, you still need to wash your hands as often as you possibly can and avoid congregation in large numbers,” he said in the interview.

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© 2020 The News & Observer