Americans fearful of COVID-19 seize on lull to pay tribute at Lafayette Square - InfoNews

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Americans fearful of COVID-19 seize on lull to pay tribute at Lafayette Square

People with face masks and without face masks walk along Sainte-Catherine street in Montreal, Sunday, May 31, 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. new poll suggests Americans are more convinced than their Canadian counterparts that a second, more powerful wave of COVID-19 is on its way. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
June 09, 2020 - 2:53 PM

WASHINGTON - Virus-wary Americans ventured out of doors Tuesday and down to the newly christened Black Lives Matter Plaza in Washington, D.C., donning face masks, keeping their distance and silently expressing their dismay at the police killing of George Floyd.

Thanks to thinner crowds and blazing sunshine, the threat of COVID-19 seemed less prevalent at the edge of Lafayette Square, which for nearly two weeks has been jammed daily with thousands of angry, shouting protesters, bellowing their rage at the White House.

Those two weeks almost seemed to make the United States forget it was in the grip of a global pandemic.

"I think people have already made a conscious decision that standing up for what they consider to be right is more important to them than the risk," said one visitor to the scene, identifying himself only as Dadisi, for fear of suffering repercussions at work.

As an older Black man who faces an elevated risk of complications from the virus, Dadisi said he made the conscious decision to steer clear of the protests until the size of the crowds dwindled. On Tuesday, he visited the steel and concrete barrier that's now a makeshift shrine to victims of police brutality.

Speaking through a hand-lettered "Black Lives Matter" mask that strained to contain his ample salt-and-pepper beard, Dadisi said he's been meticulous about covering his mouth and nose in public, avoiding crowds and wearing gloves when circumstances demand it.

"I can't risk taking the virus back into my home — and that right there is a conscientious kind of thing; you've got to think about it," he said.

"You would hope that other people are thinking about that as well, but I can tell you right now, If I'm pissed off and upset and I'm screaming at power, I'm not thinking about that in that moment. I'm thinking, 'I want these people to hear my rage.' "

In the midst of that rage, COVID-19 still lingers. Public health officials are bracing for the fallout from the country's accelerated effort to reboot its economy, as well as the sustained close-quarters contact of nearly two weeks of protests attended by tens of thousands of people.

Indeed, Americans are more convinced than their Canadian counterparts that a second, more powerful wave of COVID-19 is on its way, a new poll suggests.

The online poll by Leger and the Association for Canadian Studies found 44 per cent of U.S. respondents fear a stronger second wave, compared with 37 per cent of those surveyed in Canada.

However, 41 per cent of American participants said they believe that wave can still be avoided, compared with 37 per cent of Canadian respondents who felt the same way.

Nearly half of those in Canada, 48 per cent, said they believe the opposite: that another spike in cases will be impossible to avoid, compared with 36 per cent of Americans. The poll, conducted May 29 to 31, does not carry a margin of error since online polls are not considered representative of the population at large.

Jack Jedwab, CEO of the association, said he doesn't expect people in either country to be willing to go back to hiding from the virus behind closed doors.

"My sense that the deconfinement has given rise to people feeling that the social distancing isn’t as realistic," Jedwab said.

"As well, when people in Canada see those large protests in the U.S., it gives legitimacy to doing it here."

But Jedwab also said seeing so many Americans out in mass gatherings will likely make Canadians think twice about opening the U.S. border widely.

New data from Johns Hopkins University, meanwhile, shows a number of U.S. states are already seeing sustained increases in COVID-19 cases, including the northern border states of Michigan, North Dakota and Vermont. Southern states like Arizona, Arkansas, the Carolinas and Florida are also trending in the wrong direction.

Before Floyd died May 25 under the knee of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, slowly suffocating in full view of a young woman with a cellphone camera, fear of a second wave of COVID-19 was at its height, thanks to what critics feared was President Donald Trump's urgent political need to reopen the country.

A lot has happened since then.

Tens of thousands of people across the U.S. flooded city streets nightly after Floyd's death, some of them taking out their rage on storefronts, police cruisers and public buildings.

Law enforcement agencies, fortified in many states by the National Guard and egged on by Trump, bathed America's downtown cores in tear gas and pepper spray — a show of force that culminated last week in a dramatic clearing of Lafayette Square, followed by a defiant U.S. president strolling through the park to brandish a Bible in front of a historic, protest-scarred church.

The violence has since largely abated, but the grief and the anger has not.

"We're going to be here for the long haul," Black firebrand Rev. Al Sharpton said Tuesday during a private funeral for Floyd in Houston. "When the last TV truck is gone, we'll still be here."

On Tuesday, a lone middle-aged white protester stood at in the middle of the road near the spot where Trump crossed the street, silently holding a sign that read, "Life Cannot be a White Privilege." He, too, had decided it would be a good day to safely express his feelings.

"I have tried to mitigate risks by not being in the middle of crowds, by wearing a mask, by making sure I'm not touching things and frequently washing my hands," said the protester, who only gave his first name, Andrew, also out of fear of suffering repercussions at work for participating.

Black Americans have a right to be angry at a system that not only endangers their lives through police brutality, he said, but which also makes ethnic and low-income communities disproportionately more vulnerable to the effects of COVID-19.

"The African-American community has been hit much harder by COVID-19 than has the population at large," Andrew said.

"I wouldn't presume to speak on their behalf, but it does seem that of the grievances, that's legitimately among them — all of the things that make it so that they have suffered more from COVID-19."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 9, 2020.

— Follow James McCarten on Twitter @CdnPressStyle

News from © The Canadian Press, 2020
The Canadian Press

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