Some scientists say it’s still too early to tell how much transmission occurred at the demonstrations in New York. One reason is that many protesters were young adults — a demographic in whom severe cases and hospitalizations are less common. As a result, a rise in cases that started within this demographic might remain undetected by public health officials for longer.
“We don’t know the impact. We’ll see that in the next two weeks,” Florian Krammer, a virologist at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, said in an interview last week.
Moreover, city officials have instructed contact tracers not to ask new Covid-19 patients if they attended protests, according to a report in The City, a nonprofit news organization.
Here’s a relevant passage from The City report:
Asking someone if they’d been at a protest could wind up discouraging them from being candid in their answers, he noted.
“I think the logic has to do with the fact that contact tracing requires a strong level of trust between the interviewer and the person they’re talking to,” he said. “It’s really important to have a good rapport and treat people with ease. It’s important to not ask questions that will impede your ability to do the best job you can.”
For example, Kachur, who has been involved in contact tracking during previous pandemics involving the flu and Zika, noted that when investigators are trying to track the spread of HIV, tuberculosis or most diseases, they make a point of not asking about a person’s immigration status.
And while knowledge of how the protests might be sparking a second wave would be helpful, it would be very difficult to track close contacts at events attended by thousands of strangers, he said.
“There’s definitely a concern that state and city officials have that the protests could be a place where transmission occurs, but that risk is lower than household and other community contacts,” Kachur said. “And it would be really challenging to trace those contacts who you’ve been protesting with.”