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Protests could lead to spike in COVID-19 cases, local doctor says

"It’s just like Mardi Gras. People are in close contact. They are yelling and screaming," he said. "The viral particles are transmitting probably beyond six feet."

NEW ORLEANS — A new medical study has doctors concerned about people who don’t wear masks, and they think that officials could see a spike in COVID-19 cases from the protests and tear gas, just like they did with crowds gathering during Mardi Gras. 

Hard numbers for risk reduction show why there’s a concern. 

The new study published in The Lancet shows masks and social distancing make a difference. 

A distance of three feet reduces your risk by 82 percent, but three more feet reduces it even more. 

Masks can reduce your risk anywhere from 77 to 96 percent. The difference depends on mask quality. Medical N95 and construction masks are of course more protective than a scarf.  If you add eye goggles, there’s a 78 percent reduction in infection. 

That’s why now there is increased concern of infection with protestors who don’t wear masks or social distance. Professor of public health and head of Environmental and Occupational Health at the LSU Health and Sciences Center, Dr. Jim Diaz said the close proximity of people and what they are doing as they protest makes them more likely to get infected.

"It’s just like Mardi Gras. People are in close contact. They are yelling and screaming. The particles, the virions, the viral particles are transmitting probably beyond six feet," Diaz said.

Add tear gas and the risk of contracting coronavirus goes up.

"They make people cough, and they make their eyes water therefore there’s an even greater risk of transmission of infectious virion," Diaz said. "There’s a greater susceptibility for people to inhale through the nose or get the eyes emanated with these virions."

The doctor said first responders are at a greater risk of infection because their jobs.

"We know that there are increasing numbers of police and firefighters who’ve become COVID-19 positive, and we know there are at least a dozen police officers in the country who died of COVID-19," Diaz said.

And when it comes to masks, Diaz said they must be securely over your mouth and nose with no gaps. Wearing make without covering your nose isn't the answer.

"You’re putting yourself at risk because that mask is not doing much of anything," Diaz said. "The virus actually prefers to enter through the nose." 

That’s why testing uses a nose swab. 

Dr. Diaz said the main reason to wear a mask is many people are spreading the virus unaware they are infected because they have no symptoms.

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