Two weeks to see if rallies cause spike in COVID-19 cases: Epidemiologist

'No Peace Until Justice' marchers head down Elgin Street. This is just some of the crowd. There are many thousands of people here. (Michael Woods/CTV Ottawa)

An Epidemiologist at the University of Ottawa is encouraging participants in the anti-racism rallies in Ottawa and across Canada to self-isolate as much as possible and monitor for COVID-19 symptoms.

Thousands of people gathered on Parliament Hill and on the streets of Ottawa on Friday to demand an end to police brutality and anti-Black racism. Rallies have also been held in Ottawa suburbs, Kingston, and Brockville.

Speaking on CTV News at Six, Dr. Raywat Deonandan said there are concerns that people taking part in the demonstrations have increased their contacts with strangers, and increased the risk of spreading COVID-19.

“Most of the demonstrators are young and fit, and so they probably aren’t going to have the same deleterious outcomes as more compromised people, but they have the possibility of spreading it to other people,” said Dr. Deonandan on Saturday.

“So the concerns should be, can they now isolate themselves and prevent further contact with other people. That would be the responsible thing to do after coming back from a protest.”

Dr. Deonandan says if people were wearing a mask and maintaining a physical distance that would help limit the spread of COVID-19.

Ottawa Public Health is encouraging anyone to present for testing if they develop symptoms of illness in the two weeks following participating in a march.

Dr. Deonandan says after the 1918 flu, there were spikes in cases following parades and mass gatherings.

“So there’s historical precedence for outdoor, mass gatherings causing further waves during a pandemic.”

CTV News at Six anchor Matt Skube asked Dr. Deonandan if the rallies and demonstrations could spark a second wave of COVID-19 cases in Ottawa and across Canada.

“They could! It is unclear whether they will and hopefully they won’t. It depends entirely on how the people have been behaving at the demonstration. Are they maintaining their distances? Are they engaging in hand-hygiene? Are they not touching their faces? Are they wearing masks? And are they isolating after they come back home,” said Dr. Deonandan.

“So depending on how people behave, it is possible to see the start of an earlier second wave as a result of this, or it might be avoidable entirely if people have been responsible.”

Dr. Deonandan says it could be two weeks before we see whether there is a spike in cases of COVID-19 following the mass gatherings.

“It takes about a median of five days between exposure and most symptoms arising, then of course people have to present themselves for testing and then it takes a few days for the results to come back,” said Dr. Deonandan.

“By the time we see an effect in the data stream; it will be about two weeks, maybe three weeks. We won’t know the effects of these protests, if any at all, until two or three weeks from now.”