Protesters, those who watched nearby, and those who volunteered with neighborhood cleanup need to get tested for COVID-19 — preferably five to seven days after participating or sooner if they feel sick. The historic marches after George Floyd's tragic death happened during a still unfolding pandemic. Those who joined the calls for justice must take action to prevent themselves from becoming vehicles for viral spread.
COVID-19 is still circulating in Minnesota and elsewhere even as mitigation measures ease. Crowding and close contact for sustained periods of time can fuel the pathogen's transmission. Droplets containing the virus expelled during singing or talking at loud volume also appear to enhance contagion. Unfortunately, these risk factors have been widespread as thousands came together after Floyd's May 25 death to call for police reform or mop up the aftermath when violence occurred.
It's best for those infected to get prompt medical care. Precautions are also needed to alert family and friends to prevent further spread, a step that also helps protect seniors because infections in elder care centers appear to be introduced by staff or contractors who have the virus. In addition, testing provides public health professionals with vital surveillance information about the disease. If hot spots are developing, medical providers can prepare for hospitalizations and disease control experts can act to contain an outbreak.
Testing is still recommended even if you don't feel sick. People who have COVID-19 can be contagious even if they don't have symptoms of this disease, such as a cough, fever or shortness of breath. Typically, symptoms occur five to seven days after exposure, which is why health officials urge waiting about a week to get a test after attending a protest. Because symptoms can take up to two weeks to appear after exposure, they recommend a follow-up test in 12 to 14 days even if the first test was negative.
Officials recommend that those seeking a test start by contacting their medical providers. The state Health Department has a list of testing locations on its website: tinyurl.com/y8mbqklk. Temporary community testing sites may soon be added in locations where the protests occurred.
As of late last week, this online resource said many clinics were not doing testing for those without COVID-19 symptoms. But state health officials also sent out an alert asking providers to test both symptomatic and asymptomatic people who were involved in large gatherings. This should help open the door for testing, although some health care systems may not have the capacity to do asymptomatic testing. Calling ahead is prudent.
Paying for the test is also likely a concern for many, even those with health insurance. But recent changes in federal law in response to COVID-19 require comprehensive private health plans to cover testing and related services without cost-sharing (such as deductibles or copays). Again, the best bet is to call your insurer first.
State-run programs such as Medical Assistance and MinnesotaCare do not have out-of-pocket costs for COVID-19 testing. Seniors on Medicare or Medicare Advantage should also be shielded from testing costs.
That still leaves those who don't have insurance. Many without coverage could be eligible for medical assistance or MinnesotaCare (enroll throughout the year at MNsure.org). Health officials also note that many providers have received grants to cover the uninsured or can apply for federal funds to cover testing for those without coverage. "People who are uninsured should be able to get tested," a Health Department spokesman said Thursday.
Getting a COVID-19 test isn't just sensible. It's an extension of why so many marched for justice — because they are committed to the community's future well-being.