Health officials urge people to wear masks if attending protests as city sees uptick in coronavirus hospitalizations

Long Beach health officials are concerned about an uptick in hospitalizations for coronavirus at a time when more businesses are reopening and thousands are gathering in mass protests against police brutality.

On Sunday, more than 3,000 gathered in Downtown Long Beach to protest the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, as cities across the country saw similar demonstrations. As of Wednesday, protesters were continuing to gather with peaceful demonstrations in Heartwell and Bixby parks.

In a news conference Wednesday, Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia encouraged people to exercise their rights to demonstrate, but he urged protesters to wear masks and keep social distance as the world faces a health crisis.

“This is still a serious health issue and will continue to be more serious,” he said.

In early- and mid-May, the number of hospitalizations for coronavirus averaged in the 60s, but it has since increased. On May 24, city health officials initially reported 62 people had been hospitalized for the virus, but that number was later revised to 91, according to the city’s data dashboard.

As of Wednesday, 79 people were hospitalized, of which the majority were from long-term care facilities. The city reported a total of 2,118 positive cases and 92 deaths, of which 70 were from long-term care facilities.

Garcia said the city will continue to monitor the number of cases and watch for upticks that could be connected to the protest gatherings and relaxing of health orders that allowed businesses to reopen.

Long Beach Health Director Kelly Colopy said the next two weeks will be critical as people typically begin to show symptoms in five to 10 days after they are exposed.

Garcia said people should continue to be mindful of those who are most vulnerable.

“In the days ahead, COVID will have taken 100 residents,” Garcia said. “We cannot afford to lose hundreds more of our community members, especially our vulnerable older residents.”

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Kelly Puente is a general assignment and special projects reporter at the Long Beach Post. Her prolific reporting has taken her all over Southern California—even to the small Catalina Island town of Two Harbors. She is a Tiki mug collector and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in public policy and administration at Cal State Long Beach. Reach her at [email protected].