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Former FDA commissioner, other officials warn mass protests could cause spikes in infections

A crowd marches through downtown Des Moines Saturday, May 30, 2020, to protest police brutality. Some health officials are warning that large-scale protests sparked by the death of George Floyd could lead to new outbreaks of the novel coronavirus. (Brian Powers / AP)
A crowd marches through downtown Des Moines Saturday, May 30, 2020, to protest police brutality. Some health officials are warning that large-scale protests sparked by the death of George Floyd could lead to new outbreaks of the novel coronavirus. (Brian Powers / AP)
By Derek Hawkins The Washington Post

As nationwide protests sparked by the death of a black man in police custody stretched into their sixth day, current and former government officials warned Sunday that the mass demonstrations could lead to new waves of coronavirus infections.

“There’s going to be a lot of issues coming out of what’s happened in the last week, but one of them is going to be that chains of transmission will have become lit from these gatherings,” former Food and Drug Administration commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in an interview on CBS News’ “Face the Nation.”

He noted that Minnesota, which has been hit hard by the pandemic, had seen an uptick in cases and hospitalizations in recent days.

“We still have pockets of spread in communities that aren’t under good control,” said Gottlieb, who is advising state governors and the Trump administration on their coronavirus response.

He also called attention to the virus’ outsize impact on black and Hispanic people, who are contracting and dying from it at disproportionate rates. Low incomes, overcrowded housing, limited access to health care and high rates of underlying conditions were all factors that put those communities at greater risk, he said.

“I think it’s a symptom of broader racial inequities in our country that we need to work to resolve,” Gottlieb said.

In an interview with CNN, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, said he was worried the demonstrations could lead to spikes in cases.

“There’s no question that when you put hundreds or thousands of people together in close proximity when we’ve got this virus all over the streets it’s not healthy,” Hogan said.

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, a Democrat, said on CNN on Sunday morning that she, too, was “extremely concerned” about the spread of the coronavirus during the protests.

“It’s a pandemic, and people of color are getting hit harder,” she said. “We’re going to see the other side of this in a couple of weeks.”

Pockets of Americans across the country appeared to shrug off instructions to wear masks and practice social distancing over the weekend, gathering in large groups to protest, dine or enjoy the warm weather.

A Florida physician who handled coronavirus test results for thousands of people was removed from his post recently after officials realized he had been put on probation by the state medical board for improperly treating HIV patients, the Sun Sentinel reported.

The doctor, Eric Pantaleon, was also listed in a Drug Enforcement Administration database of Florida doctors who bought large amounts of opioids, according to the Sun Sentinel.

State officials contracted with Pantaleon and his company, Medical Associates Network, to deliver results from 12 coronavirus testing sites in southeast Florida.

Officials may not have noticed he was on probation initially because he was a third party that worked downstream from labs that run tests for the state, the Sun Sentinel reported.

The sites that Pantaleon was involved with have been plagued by delays, with some patients waiting weeks or even months to receive results, according to local media.

Residents who got tested were instructed to call Pantaleon if they did not receive their results within five days. Many told local media he never returned their calls.

Pantaleon did not immediately respond to a request for comment Sunday.

In the first large-scale study examining coronavirus antibodies in children, researchers in Washington state found that roughly 1 percent of children who visited a Seattle hospital in March and April were infected with the novel coronavirus, even though most were not symptomatic.

The study, which was released Saturday and has not been peer reviewed, also found that most of the children’s immune systems neutralized the virus quickly, offering hope for researchers working to develop a vaccine.

“If children can respond to the virus, then children can respond to a vaccine,” the study’s co-author, Janet Englund, an infectious-disease specialist at Seattle Children’s Hospital, told the Seattle Times. “And vaccines that are given to children are one of the most effective ways to stop the spread of disease in the community.”

“This is just a baby step,” Englund added. “But this is, to my knowledge, the first study of seroprevalence in children.”

The Seattle area was one of the first parts of the country hit hard by the coronavirus, which killed dozens of residents of a nursing home in the city’s suburbs following the emergence of the first cases in late February.

Researchers conducted serology tests on 1,076 children who were admitted to the Seattle Children’s Hospital between March 3 and April 24, during which time confirmed cases spiked in Washington state and subsequently tapered off. Most were admitted for reasons unrelated to the coronavirus.

One child tested positive for the antibodies in March, the other nine in April, according to the study. Eight out of the 10 were not suspected of having covid-19, the disease caused by the virus.

Laura Stevens contributed to this report.

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