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El Paso County health officials discuss George Floyd protests and coronavirus outbreaks

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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KRDO) -- Hundreds have gathered in the streets of Colorado Springs since Saturday to protest police brutality and the death of black Minneapolis man George Floyd.

However, public health experts across the nation and locally have expressed concern that the large crowds could lead to more outbreaks of COVID-19.

Dr. Michael Roshon with Penrose Hospital says the first amendment is important and will not be stopped during a pandemic.

“It’s not about ‘Should we stop these protests?'" Roshon said. "The question is how do we take what we know about the virus and how it’s transmitted, and how do we use that to make the protests safe?”

When KRDO reporters have gone to local protests, the majority of people are seen wearing face masks but aren't following social distancing guidelines.

Dr. David Steinbruner, the associate chief medical officer for UCHealth Memorial Hospital Central, says wearing face masks can greatly reduce the spread of coronavirus in these closequarters.

“It doesn’t have to be a surgical mask. It just has to be some sort of cloth protection to keep you from coughing on other people," Steinbruner said. "Wash your hands. If you’re sick, stay home and do it on video. You can video chat with people [and] be a part of that on social media."

Several protesters have told KRDO in previous interviews that fighting for equal rights and to hold police accountable is more important than current COVID-19 circumstances.

In an interview from Saturday's peaceful protest, resident Shelby Dean said she usually wears her face mask, but will also lower it to let her voice be heard.

"You can't hear me through this mask and I need you to hear me," Dean said. "This is more important because this is going to change history. Maybe not today, maybe not next year, but this will be a part of what is created in the future for my son."

Although protests throughout the day have been peaceful, the rallies have become violent later at night and several people have been arrested.

Dr. Roshon says the arrests could pose health concerns as people need to be transported to local jails that may be overcrowded. He says everyone involved in the protests holds some responsibility.

“If you’re a protestor, protest peacefully. Don’t do anything unlawful that’s going to put you at risk of getting arrested and therefore in a situation where you might be infected with this virus," Roshon said. "Same thing for the law enforcement officers. Don’t arrest people unnecessarily. Don’t unnecessarily put people in that situation.”

Dr. Steinbruner says more testing will be the key to reducing outbreaks that may come as a result of large protests.

El Paso County Public Health has a list of testing sites within the county to get tested for COVID-19.

Coronavirus / Health / Local News / News

Zachary Aedo

Zach is a reporter for KRDO and Telemundo Surco. Learn more about Zach here.