How protests may impact spread of COVID-19 across Red River Valley

North Dakota Joint Information Center says state lab is prepared for potential surge of cases

FARGO, N.D. — With thousands of people taking to the streets during protests in Fargo and Grand Forks over the past couple of weeks, there is a chance the coronavirus will spread at a higher rate.

“When people are protesting, typically there is some chanting, some shouting that leads to more viruses being shared from your oral cavity, nose,” says Sanford Infectious Disease Specialist Dr. Avish Nagpal. “And then sometimes, unfortunately, when we see tear gas used, that leads to more coughing, more nasal discharge, more tearing in the eyes.”

Dr. Nagpal says all of these factors could lead to a spike in COVID-19 cases.

However, it is too early to tell if that will be the case in our area.

“There is always a time lag between what you see after a large gathering when you see an outbreak because it’s not like everybody will get infected today and develop symptoms tomorrow,” adds Dr. Nagpal.

The CDC says COVID-19 symptoms may appear 14 days after exposure to the virus.

“Another two or three incubation periods for a chain of transmission that occurs after somebody has been infected and they pass on that transmission to others, so it can easily take three or four weeks to realize the full effect of one single outbreak in a large gathering,” he says.

If there is a surge in cases in the coming weeks, those at the North Dakota Joint Information Center say the state lab is prepared.

They report they’ve now reached the ability to run 4,770 tests per day.

But Dr. Nagpal says those who protested in Fargo shouldn’t get tested right away in order to avoid a false negative.

“I would not recommend testing immediately after a protest or two or three days after that. I think we have to wait a week or so, and during that time I think we need to practice social distancing.”

He says Sanford isn’t capable of testing everyone, but will test those who’ve had documented exposure to the virus.

Dr. Nagpal also adds that the risk of contracting COVID-19 is higher indoors, as opposed to the outdoors settings the protests took place in.

Categories: Coronavirus-ND, Health, Local News, North Dakota News