Just a reminder: We’re still in the midst of a pandemic. It’s almost easy to forget as coronavirus has taken a back seat to the ongoing nationwide protests against a police officer killing black Minneapolis resident George Floyd, police brutality and racial injustice.
An announcement by Athens-Clarke County Commissioner Mariah Parker on Tuesday that she had tested positive for coronavirus, however, served as a reminder that COVID-19 is still a threat. In fact, there’s been a spike in cases recently, with official numbers now showing a cumulative total of 315 positive tests among Clarke County residents and 15 deaths. Wait times for testing can range from hours to days.
As co-organizer for last weekend’s March for a World Without Police event, Parker said she wanted to make sure she was OK to attend Saturday’s Justice for Black Lives Rally.
“I was around a couple thousand people Sunday and assumed I had been exposed,” she said. “Especially ahead of planning to attend Saturday’s action as well, I figured I can’t put myself out there around a bunch of people again if I have coronavirus.”
Parker said she pre-registered and went to the drive-through testing center on Alps Road. “The line was very long,” she said. “I ended up waiting for three hours to get my test, but once I had been tested, they gave me results back in about 15 to 20 minutes.”
While asymptomatic but possibly infectious, Parker said she will be at home until further testing shows that she is negative.
Meanwhile, Mayor Kelly Girtz, who spent part of the Sunday protest standing next to Parker, said he and his wife and son are all getting tested Friday morning.
Those who wish to be tested can call the Northeast Health District at 706-340-0996 between 8 a.m.–7 p.m. Monday through Friday or 9 a.m.–5 p.m. Saturday to set up an appointment for a free test. Those who lack transportation or have other barriers can call the Athens Free Clinic mobile unit at 706-308-4092 from 8 a.m.–5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Primary care physicians, urgent care centers and federally funded health centers like the Athens Neighborhood Health Center also have tests or can provide referrals.
While the news of Parker’s positive test was surprising to many, it also facilitated an active discussion by fellow protest participants and Athenians about testing locations, being vigilant about maintaining social distance in a protest environment and the importance of wearing masks.
Earlier today, the Northeast Health District issued recommendations for mass gatherings. They include wearing a clothe mask and keeping it on while talking, which can help people who have coronavirus but don’t know it from spreading it; staying six feet away from other people; and washing your hands or using hand sanitizer frequently.
Tomorrow’s Justice for Black Lives Rally, organized by the Athens Anti-Descrimination Movement (AADM), will have stations with hand sanitizer set up. The AADM has paid particular attention to safety and further efforts to focus on social distancing, masks and other means to help attendees curb the spread of coronavirus.
There will be masks to hand out at the event, chalk or tape markings on the ground to show where families or households can stand at a safe distance from other protestors, and a stage setup so that speeches and performances can be heard from far away.
“We hope this will encourage people to not have to crowd in, as they should be able to hear it from far away,” said AADM co-founder Mokah Jasmine Johnson. “We’ve also purchased three bullhorns and have several mics, so speakers are not using the same equipment.”
Those who are concerned about attending can watch the livestream on Facebook. Any poll workers, the elderly and immunocompromised or people that were in large groups on Memorial Day or recent protests, or have been to crowded bars or restaurants are encouraged to not attend.
“We think it’s important to recognize that the increase in cases should not only be linked to this week’s protests,” said Johnson. “People showing symptoms now may have contracted COVID-19 before any protests, especially last Sunday’s protest in Athens. It is sad that we are forced to fight for our lives on two fronts due to systematic failures in our government. Black lives are at risk of dying every day, even before COVID-19, and right now there are injustices that need to be addressed.”
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