As nationwide protests against police brutality and systemic racism gain momentum, healthcare experts warn that they may lead to an uptick in coronavirus cases.
The director of Harvard’s Global Health Institute, Dr. Ashish Jha, told Jim Braude on WGBH News’ Greater Boston Monday that while he supports the movement, he’s worried — but not panicked — about the larger effects on the pandemic.
“You know, I'm worried about it. Obviously, hundreds of thousands of people packed in together makes me nervous. Now, there are a few things that help — the fact that it's outside, I think is helpful. The fact that people are largely wearing masks is helpful,” Jha explained. “One of the things I remind folks of is, at the end of the day, it's maybe a quarter or half a percent of the population that's participating. And so, while it's a big number, it should not fuel large outbreaks across the country.”
The continued protests and warnings from health officials come as Massachusetts enters phase two of Governor Charlie Baker’s re-opening plan Monday, loosening restrictions on retailers, restaurants, childcare facilities and more. But as the state takes this step forward, Jha said he still thinks there isn’t enough testing.
“Do I wish we had more testing capacity than we do? Would I feel better? Absolutely,” Jha said. “ I do understand that while we are entering phase two, it's not like we're going back to the old days. ... As long as the governor is committed, as long as the state is committed to continue to ramp up testing over the upcoming weeks and months, I think it's probably okay.”
While the federal government seems to downplay the issue, Jha argued that Massachusetts is uniquely positioned to become a national leader on testing.
“If Massachusetts can really be an example, a beacon — we've done this in other areas of health care. And if we can do that here, then I think other states are going to want to follow and they're going to put pressure on the federal government to get its act together and help them out,” he said.
Some countries have fared better in the pandemic than others. In New Zealand — one of a few small countries which have eradicate the virus completely — social distancing will soon be a thing of the past. But Jha explained that the pandemic is still in its early days in other parts of the world.
“We have many more days ahead of us than behind us in terms of this pandemic. And what we have is large parts of the world really seeing a massive acceleration — Brazil, Russia, India, other parts of Latin America. The problem here is we also have the United States, which is just kind of blundering along and with a mediocre response, inadequate suppression of the virus. We should be setting an example for how to manage this disease and instead we aren't,” he said.