'We will see a surge in COVID,' UCSF epidemiologist warns if protesters don't wear masks

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- As George Floyd protests continue across the Bay Area, it's raising the question, could all this congregating lead to a surge in COVID-19 cases?

ABC7 spoke with the Director of Public Health at UCSF, Dr. George Rutherford.

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"The issue here... is how to protest safely?" he said. "How do you decrease your chances of being infected, while you're out in crowds?"

Dr. Rutherford said there are three ways large protests could result in a spike of coronavirus cases.

First, if masks aren't worn properly.

"People aren't talking they are yelling, and shouting," he said. "It's more of a forceful exhalation, and it cuts down on how efficient the masks can prevent droplets from spreading."

Second, if crowds aren't social distancing.

Over the weekend, video of protests across the Bay Area clearly shows that isn't happening.

VIDEO: The best and worst moments from Bay Area protests

Even, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf admitted she's terrified of the virus spreading.

"Let's be clear this virus can spread so easily," Schaaf said. "On Friday night we had 8,000 protesters in a tight group. That is not safe."

The third fear revolves around tear gas or pepper spray.

"It tends to have people rub their eyes, that's one of the ways you can take it off a surface," he said.

Rutherford explained if protesters don't wear masks, we will see a surge in COVID-19 cases.

"We need voluntary compliance, voluntary willingness to do the right thing," San Francisco Police Chief Bill Scott said. "Law abiding citizens... that follow the law."

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