Houston Protesters Begin to Fall Ill With Coronavirus After Marching for George Floyd

Houston George Floyd March
An estimated 60,000 people marched for racial justice in honor of George Floyd in Houston, Texas on June 2, 2020. Sergio Flores/Getty

Increasing numbers of Houston residents have reportedly been diagnosed with COVID-19 after attending protests against the death of George Floyd.

Large protests began in the city days after the death of Houston native Floyd, an unarmed black man who died while police custody in Minneapolis, Minnesota on May 25. Texas has been experiencing a surge of new COVID-19 cases. Harris County, which encompasses Houston, has been adding hundreds of new cases each day to the more than 17,000 total confirmed cases reported as of Monday.

Houston resident Shamone Turner told KRIV that she took part in a march to Houston City Hall attended by an estimated 60,000 people about two weeks ago and later tested positive for the virus. Several friends who accompanied her were also said to have tested positive. Despite the illness, she said she has no regrets about her decision to march.

"I actually got sick the day after the march... I could not move out of the bed. I was in the bed just sighing," Turner said. "I definitely don't regret getting the COVID, because I was out there doing the right thing for the right cause."

The extent to which the new cases may be tied to protests is unclear. Although it is likely some cases were contracted during protests, the virus is believed to have an incubation period of between 2 and 14 days, while reporting delays could also make it difficult to determine when and where people contracted the disease.

Houston police reported an uptick in cases after the protests began, with at least 23 officers testing positive since June 6, according to The Houston Chronicle.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner on Monday urged residents to wear face masks, practice good hygiene and maintain social distancing to help slow the rate of new infections. He also said that people who had gathered closely in public should get tested for the virus, including those who attended the protests.

"[I am] encouraging people who have been out in the general public... participated in marches, demonstrations, protests... go and be tested," the mayor said during Monday press briefing. "Numbers continue to go up every day."

The mayor has personally participated in the demonstrations, including the large march to city hall. He decided to get tested for the virus on Saturday due to taking part in the march, testing negative for a second time since the pandemic began. However, Turner does not believe that the new cases should be blamed solely on the demonstrations.

"The state's governor started aggressively reopening businesses prior to the march and people packed into restaurants, bars, pool parties and other events despite the occupancy limits and with little to no social distancing or the use of face masks," Mary Benton, the mayor's communications director, told Newsweek in a statement.

"Mayor Turner has consistently encouraged people to practice the recommended social distancing, good hygiene and the wearing of face masks," she added. "Because he marched, went to the memorial and funeral, Mayor Turner took his second COVID-19 test which was negative and encourages everyone to get tested."

From May 30 to June 2, the first weekend of the protests, 167 people were reportedly arrested while taking part in demonstrations across Texas. Arrest reports suggest that a majority of those arrested were in their teens or 20s, according to Houston Public Media.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott on Monday singled out young people as one group that could be helping drive a statewide increase in new cases. He suggested that many younger people were gathering while failing to maintain adequate preventative measures, without directly connecting new cases among the group to those attending the protests.

"[We are seeing] an increase in young people testing positive, in particular people in the age 20 to 29 age group," Abbott told KRIS on Monday. "That age group is the age group that is going to bars a whole lot more."