SUFFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — While more than two weeks have passed, one health district director thinks it’s still too soon to draw conclusions on the effect large protests have on the number of coronavirus cases in Virginia.

Beginning May 29 and continuing almost every day since then, protests over racial injustice and police brutality have taken place in cities all across Hampton Roads. Many have involved 100 or more people of all races and ages, standing less than 6 feet from one another for prolonged periods of time.

“Anytime you see large gatherings like that, it’s concerning,” said Dr. Todd Wagner, director of the Western Tidewater Health District.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has maintained that the extended incubation period for COVID-19 is 14 days.

But in just over that amount of time since protests began, Virginia and Hampton Roads specifically has not reported any large spikes.

Virginia reported a low 380 new COVID-19 tests on Monday morning, its lowest daily increase since April, as current hospitalizations dropped again to a new record low.

So, is it time to be more skeptical about directives to avoid large gatherings?

“I think it may be a little premature to relay necessarily numbers gathered for a protest to either a trend or a spike,” Wagner said. He insinuated that because of proactive measures taken, it isn’t out of the realm of possibility that nobody at any of the protests in Hampton Roads was infected with the virus.

“Social distancing, hand washing … all those are measures that have definitely decreased the pattern of disease in the public,” Wagner said. “[Being] outside definitely helps (too).”

Disease experts have long maintained that the virus does not survive well in sunlight.

Finally, Wagner said we shouldn’t discount the fact that many protesters were wearing face-coverings.

“I would say yes, it makes a big difference,” Wagner said. “Remember the mask doesn’t protect you but it helps you not spread the virus if you have it.”

Again, Wagner can’t say for sure the masks are what is helping keep the number of new COVID-19 cases down in the commonwealth. It’s worth noting that North Carolina, which has seen growing case numbers in the last week, doesn’t have a mask mandate.

Still, Wagner echoes Gov. Ralph Northam’s calls for protesters to get tested.

“I want to try to caution people to not try to move too fast towards completely normal,” Wagner said. “We will move in a stepwise, it makes sense to move in a stepwise progression, we’ll continue to do that and I think we’ll be successful.” 

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