Protests over George Floyd's death are dividing the nation as several public health experts have pledged their support saying racism is worse than the virus while critics accuse them of hypocrisy.
Demonstrations demanding justice for Floyd and calling for an end to police brutality and racism against African-Americans are drawing thousands of people to the streets across America, while the nation is still tackling the coronavirus pandemic and social distancing is advised.
A number of public health officials have argued the cause is worth breaking social distancing rules for, saying the damage systemic racism wreaks on society far outweighs the risk of the virus.
But conservatives have blasted the experts 'hypocrites' for encouraging people to gather, after anti-lockdown protesters were slammed for holding mass gatherings back in April.
Pictured a protest in New York City Friday. Demonstrations demanding justice for George Floyd and calling for an end to police brutality and racism against African-Americans are drawing thousands of people to the streets across America
Protesters wear face masks at a protest in New York Friday. Protests over the killing of Floyd are taking place nationwide while the US is still tackling the coronavirus pandemic and social distancing is being enforced
Protesters in LA link arms and struggle to social distance. The nation has been divided in its response as several public health experts have pledged their support saying racism is worse than the virus while critics accuse them of hypocrisy
Former director of the CDC Tom Frieden tweeted his support of protesters this week, saying violence is a greater risk to public health than COVID-19.
'The threat to Covid control from protesting outside is tiny compared to the threat to Covid control created when governments act in ways that lose community trust. People can protest peacefully AND work together to stop Covid. Violence harms public health,' he tweeted.
The sentiment was echoed by epidemiology and global health expert Jennifer Nuzzo who tweeted: 'We should always evaluate the risks and benefits of efforts to control the virus. In this moment the public health risks of not protesting to demand an end to systemic racism greatly exceed the harms of the virus.'
New York City Council Health Committee Chairman Mark D. Levine told New Yorkers Wednesday that if the mass protests across the city over Floyd's death do lead to a rise in coronavirus cases, the blame lies with 'racism' and not the protesters.
A number of public health officials have tweeted the cause is worth breaking social distancing rules for, saying the damage systemic racism wreaks on society outweighs the risk of the virus
'Let's be clear about something: if there is a spike in coronavirus cases in the next two weeks, don't blame the protesters. Blame racism,' he wrote on Twitter.
The health expert then added in a follow-up Tweet that the actions of law enforcement during the protests are upping the risk of the virus spreading.
'And let's remember that the police are increasing covid risk by: using tear gas, herding demonstrators into tight spaces, putting people in crowded jails,' he tweeted.
But conservatives have reacted angrily to the public health experts and the media, saying they are showing double standards.
They argue that when thousands of anti-lockdown protesters gathered outside state capitol buildings in their Trump paraphernalia and touting their firearms back in April, they were widely condemned for their actions.
Pictured an anti-lockdown protest in mid-April in North Carolina. Conservatives have blasted the experts 'hypocrites' for encouraging people to gather, after anti-lockdown protesters were slammed for holding mass gatherings
Groups of anti-lockdown protesters in Ohio at the start of May - most of them not wearing face masks or social distancing
Donald Trump retweeted a number of conservatives making this argument on Twitter this week, including that of commentator Buck Sexton.
'Remember, if you don't social distance, you're literally killing people,' Sexton tweeted. 'That's what they told us. The "experts."'
Conservatives 'are upset at the political leaders who think protesting and mass gatherings are more important suddenly than being able to feed your family or keep your business open,' Stephen L. Miller, a conservative media critic, told Politico.
Cornell Law School professor and media critic William A. Jacobson also accused the media of taking a hypocritical approach.
'The riots have ripped the mask off the mainstream media politicized coronavirus hysteria. When it was politically convenient, the media shamed and attacked people who wanted to reopen their stores or even gather at the beach,' he told Fox News.
'Now that rioters and looters are gathering in large numbers, the media no longer cares about social distancing, because the media sympathizes with them.'
Conservatives have slammed the response of health experts saying they are being hypocritical
The two movements have come at different points of gravity amid the coronavirus pandemic.
When anti-lockdown protesters first started gathering in state capitols demanding businesses reopen it was mid-April, when infections and death tolls were at their peak and hospitals were buckling under the demand of patients.
Meanwhile, the Black Lives Matter protests have come at a time when all states have relaxed stay-at-home orders to some extent and daily deaths and infections have been declining for some time.
CDC director Robert Redfield broke his silence on the matter Friday.
'I do think there is a potential, unfortunately, for this to be a seeding event,' Redfield said Friday of the protests.
He also said he feared that police tactics could fuel the virus spreading, pointing to the use tear gas and pepper spray that could cause coughing.
'Definitely, coughing can spread respiratory viruses, including COVID-19,' the CDC director said.
Redfield said protestors should consider getting themselves tested for coronavirus within three to seven days of attending the events but stopped short of telling people not to attend.