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Doctors discuss the likelihood of COVID-19 spike after Austin protests

While several medical professionals understand why the protests are happening, they're urging caution to those attending.

AUSTIN, Texas — As protests continue to happen around the country, some doctors are concerned that a rise in COVID-19 cases could potentially happen because of the protests. 

Social distancing has proven difficult as large groups gather to make their voices heard, but there are many people wearing face coverings. Nevertheless, doctors said there could be a spike in cases, but they're not sure to what extent.

"How we identify the surge is how many actually seek care, and we're doing some testing, but not nearly to the level to know, you know, to be able to forecast well how many are infected," said Cindy Zolnierek, a registered nurse and the CEO of the Texas Nurses Association. "So, I really think we will see an increase in cases. Now to what extent, I don't know." 

Zolnierek also said it's a good idea to get a test after attending a protest, but getting one before could be even more helpful. 

"Before you go to a protest, get a test and see if you're positive and if you are, don't go. You know, that's probably the safest thing to do," Zolnierek said. 

RELATED: Austin health officials concerned about uptick in COVID-19 cases amid protests

Dr. Phil Huang, the director for Dallas County Health and Human Services, encourages people to continue wearing face coverings and social distance. 

"... trying to do as much as you can – the physical distancing. You know, staying far apart because it hasn't changed that the droplets spread and things, you know, that are causing the transmission," Huang said.

He is also on the Texas Medical Association's council on science and public health. As for a potential surge in cases because of the protests, he said there are a lot of unknowns to it. 

"We're really concerned about what's going to happen in the fall or when you get to influenza season also," Huang said. "But this is – again, there are so many unknowns with this we're not sure how the summer's going to play into it."

Credit: Luis de Leon
A crowd protests on the I-35 bridge Saturday afternoon.

Emergency Medicine Physician Dr. Natasha Kathuria told KVUE that doctors understand why people are protesting, but to take caution if people decide to attend a protest. 

"As physicians, we are extremely compassionate towards the message of protests and fighting against racism. We see the downstream effects of racial violence in our ERs nationwide, and we proudly stand by our black communities," Kathuria said. "That being said, our priorities are public health, now and always. Crowds are breeding grounds for COVID-19, and this virus does not discriminate." 

Kathuria advises protesters to wear masks, stay non-violent and social distance as much as possible. 

On Wednesday, Austin Public Health (APH) answered the media's questions in its weekly COVID-19 Q&A on June 3. You can find our coverage on that here.

WATCH: Concerns about the spread of COVID-19 as protests continue in Downtown Austin 


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