'White supremacy is a lethal public health issue': Dozens of public health experts sign letter encouraging Floyd protesters to continue

Dozens of public health experts have signed an open letter supporting nationwide protests despite coronavirus risks because they say “white supremacy is a lethal health issue.” The letter, initially written by infectious disease experts at the University of Washington, cites the number of black people killed by police, disparities in life expectancy, as well as the higher death rate of black Americans from the coronavirus as examples of why protesters are justified taking to the streets, according to National Public Radio. "White supremacy is a lethal public health issue that predates and contributes to COVID-19," the letter read.

"Data is showing that blacks and Latinos have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19 in many states," said Dr. Elaine Nsoesie, an assistant professor of global health at Boston University, who did not sign the letter but agreed with its overall message in a comment to NPR. "Racism is one of the reasons this disparity exists." She continued: "Racism is a social determinant of health. It affects the physical and mental health of blacks in the U.S. So I wouldn't weigh these crises separately."

Many Twitter users criticized NPR’s article, which was headlined “Protesting Racism Versus Risking COVID-19: 'I Wouldn't Weigh These Crises Separately'” on Twitter, questioning why public health experts were so adamant that people stay inside only to reverse course and promote a large protest. “If you still needed a reason to not take these 'experts' seriously ever again,” one Twitter user wrote. Another simply wrote, “Defund NPR.” Despite months of stay-at-home orders and social distancing guidelines currently in place, local governments across the country have allowed thousands of protesters and rioters to flood the streets in close quarters despite previous warnings about the potential deadliness of large gatherings.

Some politicians have expressed concern with how the virus will spread through the large crowds of protesters. “This is not helping end coronavirus,” New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said. “I think this has been counterproductive for New York City in many ways.” Protests, looting, and riots have broken out over the past week following the death of George Floyd, a black man, who died while in police custody stemming from an incident that went viral on Twitter where a white police officer, Derek Chauvin, was kneeling on his throat for an extended period of time until Floyd lost consciousness and later died. Chauvin has been charged with third-degree murder, and the city says charges against the three other officers involved are coming.