SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. - Black Lives Matter protesters have been taking to the streets for more than a week and public health officers are concerned they could see an uptick in coronavirus cases.
Hundreds of people took part in peaceful protests in Grover Beach and San Luis Obispo Friday, and many said the protest was worth the risk of contracting the virus.
Protesters say America has two pandemics - the coronavirus pandemic and a racism pandemic.
"Racism is a pandemic," said Nalah Loman, who organized the protest in Grover Beach Friday. "We encourage everyone to bring masks, bring sanitizer, bring gloves, whatever you need to do."
She said that it's okay if people participate in other ways from home because of the health pandemic. "If you're not comfortable in coming out, don't come out. But we're here, we're fighting for a cause. I'm willing to fight and die for this."
Protesters say the cause is too important to do nothing.
"The truth of the matter is that people of color have been at risk every day of their lives in so many different ways," said Tophie Boreham, a protester in San Luis Obispo. "So, me taking on a little bit of risk is worthwhile and important."
San Luis Obispo County Public Health says they are concerned COVID-19 cases could increase after protests.
Dr. Penny Borenstein, San Luis Obispo County public health officer, said the county is contact tracing their cases. They "get a very thorough list of where they have been and who they've communicating with in person," so that they can track community spread.
They encourage all protesters to get tested for coronavirus after a week. Getting tested too soon could produce a false negative.
"We have to understand that there's an incubation period, so if you are exposed at an event like this, your positive result isn't likely to show up for several days," said Dr. Borenstein.
They also say protesters should physical distance and wear masks, though masks are not a fail safe, especially with chanting and singing.
"It's really important we come out and protest, but it's also really important that we stay as safe as possible," said Boreham. "I think we can do both of those things. "