"We created the letter in response to emerging narratives that seemed to malign demonstrations as risky for the public health because of Covid-19," according to the letter writers, many of whom are part of the University of Washington's Division of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
"Instead, we wanted to present a narrative that prioritizes opposition to racism as vital to the public health, including the epidemic response. We believe that the way forward is not to suppress protests in the name of public health but to respond to protesters demands in the name of public health, thereby addressing multiple public health crises."
The letter focuses on health guidance for protestors and law enforcement, such as wearing masks, advocating to not hold people who are arrested in close proximity and opposing the use of tear gas for health reasons.
"Staying at home, social distancing, and public masking are effective at minimizing the spread of COVID-19. To the extent possible, we support the application of these public health best practices during demonstrations that call attention to the pervasive lethal force of white supremacy," the letter says.
"However, as public health advocates, we do not condemn these gatherings as risky for COVID-19 transmission. We support them as vital to the national public health and to the threatened health specifically of Black people in the United States. We can show that support by facilitating safest protesting practices without detracting from demonstrators' ability to gather and demand change. This should not be confused with a permissive stance on all gatherings, particularly protests against stay-home orders."
The letter writers said they are concerned about health implications of protests, including how tear gas or smoke might cause people to cough, which can spread the coronavirus, and that people may be spending a lot of time together and not able to stay 6 feet apart.
"Prepare for an increased number of infections in the days following a protest," the letter says. "Provide increased access to testing and care for people in the affected communities, especially when they or their family members put themselves at risk by attending protests."