KEY POINTS

  • Several coronavirus testing sites have shut down since the George Floyd protests erupted
  • Health officials worry that the test interruptions will make it harder to find cases
  • Areas where COVID-19 mostly affects African Americans are further hampered

COVID-19 testing sites across the U.S. are shutting down temporarily amid the wave of violent protests and riots happening in the streets.

Since May 30 (Saturday), coronavirus testing facilities from coast to coast closed or cut down its hours of operation as thousands of demonstrators clashed with the authorities, while looters broke properties and entered establishments. Local health officials said that the move was necessary to ensure the safety of the testing staff and patients.

“Los Angeles County is in the midst of fighting an unprecedented pandemic while also facing a State of Emergency that impacts public safety," a statement from Christina Ghaly, the L.A County Department of Health Services director, was posted on its website. "Public health remains a key concern and testing remains a priority as we continue to battle the coronavirus. We need to ensure our testing sites are safe for both patients and staff."

Florida COVID-19 testing sites were also briefly closed as the National Guard personnel posted there were called on to help the police enforce peace and order during the protests march. One popular testing site in Jacksonville, which conducts 500 tests a day, including tests for frontliners, was not in operation since Monday (June 1).

49732974178_4f76b92edb_b COVID-19 testing facilities are temporarily closed as protests rallies sweep the streets of America. Photo: Creative Commons

Testing sites in Illinois didn't open for several days as protesters and looters took over the streets. Chicago's Mayor Lori Lightfoot expressed concern over the threats of a new coronavirus outbreak beyond these widespread rallies as the city prepares to shift to its next phase of reopening Wednesday (June 3).

Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Allison Arwady said that the situation is "fragile at best" as Chicago has a decline of hospitalization and deaths, but new COVID-19 cases continue to increase. The health official said that Chicago needs to be cautious now more than ever to reduce the number of cases.

The interruption of testing efforts is also a concern for Dr. Amesh Adalja of the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.

"The way we move forward with this pandemic is to have testing be as widely available as possible," Adalja said, via NBC News. "Any disruption to testing is going to make it harder to find cases."

Adalja warned that areas with limited access to testing facilities had been further limited because of these temporary shutdowns, especially in African American communities.

A report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) cited in April that African American communities are more vulnerable to COVID-19 because they have more prevalent pre-existing conditions like asthma, diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity.

Jan Malcolm, the health commissioner in Minnesota, where George Flynn died under police custody, said that they are concerned over the "disproportionate impacts of COVID-19 on people of color." In a statement posted on the state health department’s website, Malcolm appealed to the public to follow public health guidelines to prevent needless suffering and death.

Meanwhile, U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams said in an interview with Politico that there's "every reason to expect" the emergence of new clusters and outbreak as a result of the protests. Boston University professor of epidemiology Ellie Murray recommended that those who were at the rallies to at least self-quarantine for 14 days.