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How to Protest Safely during COVID-19

By Divya Gopisetty

As Black Lives Matter protests continue throughout the world, we put together a few tips to help you protest safely while living with diabetes. In addition, read on for ways to support protests from your home

Black individuals and allies are protesting across the nation in response to police brutality against the Black community in the United States. It is important to have information on how to protest safely during the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly if you or a loved one are living with diabetes.

Earlier this month, diaTribe released a statement in solidarity with all those who are fighting for racial equality. Racism is a public health problem. We will continue to combat systemic racism, in part, by publishing information that keeps our communities safe and healthy if they decide to exercise their rights to peacefully protest injustice. At the end of the article, we list a few ways to show solidarity in fighting racism outside protesting for those that do not have them.

The nation is facing multiple health crises. Over 1,200 health professionals signed an open letter on May 30th that highlighted the levels of threats to health and safety that are at play. “Protests against systemic racism, which fosters the disproportionate burden of COVID-19 on Black communities and also perpetuates police violence, must be supported,” the letter reads.

Understandably, there is concern about the potential to spread COVID-19 with these protests: either to be infected with COVID-19 yourself or to spread COVID-19 to others if you don’t know you have it. Of course, as readers know from our prior coverage, the risk of COVID-19 globally (and particularly near hot spots) is very real; you can learn about your state's risk of infection and projected infection here.

Every person has to decide what their level of risk is and how much they stand to lose if they get sick or get someone else sick. Going out into a crowd, even outside, increases the risk of exposure and getting COVID-19.  The risk factors (in addition to having diabetes) for doing poorly with COVID-19 include: 

  • Age (over the age of 50)

  • Overweight or obesity

  • Frequent high blood sugar levels 

  • Heart disease

  • Hypertension

  • Lung disease

  • History of a transplant

  • Active treatment for cancer

  • Being on steroids or other immunosuppressive medications

People should talk with their healthcare team about their risk and whether or not they should consider other ways of protesting, such as driving to protests and protesting “in-car” or donating money to any of a number of causes that can help (see below), if this is possible for them.

If a person participates in a group protest and lives with or cares for vulnerable individuals (those with the risk factors above) then they should be prepared to quarantine for two weeks to avoid infecting others. It is important to consider one’s responsibilities to others when deciding to risk exposure to COVID-19.

Keeping this in mind, if you decide to take on the risk to you and others by protesting, please commit to the following tips to keep yourself and others as safe as possible:

1. Do not attend protests if you are sick or have experienced COVID-19 related symptoms close to the protest day.

2. Research the protests before attending to make sure they are legitimate and know your rights.

  • Under the Fourth Amendment, a police officer is not allowed to search or confiscate your belongings without a warrant or without probable cause. Stay calm, be clear, and follow directions as much as possible.

  • If you do get arrested, you have the right to medical care (if you experience low or high blood sugar, for example).

3. Carry a small bag (on your body, not in a backpack) ​with a few days’ worth of your diabetes supplies and medication for the protest and if you get detained. Include your blood glucose meter and strips, even if you use a CGM. Remember to pack glucose tabs or simple carbohydrates in case you experience low blood sugar.

  • In addition, bring hand sanitizer, snacks (food may not be available), first-aid supplies, and water to stay hydrated.

  • If you have a medical alert card, include it in case your bag gets taken from you and you need proof of your diabetes.

  • Wear a medical ID bracelet if you have one so others can clearly identify that you live with diabetes. If you do not have a medical ID bracelet, consider writing that you have diabetes on your arm in permanent marker.

  • Make sure your insulin doesn’t overheat (you could bring a small ice-pack). If you use an insulin pump, make sure your reservoir and batteries are full. 

4. Cover your face with a mask that covers your nose and mouth as well as possible and try your best to stay in a small group. Groups should aim to maintain a distance of six feet from each other.

  • Avoid touching your face.

  • Avoid physical contact with people you are not living with.

5. Wear eye protection – like goggles – to prevent injury. Bring cool water and be prepared to flush out eyes in case of tear gas. Eye protection can also lower the risk of contracting COVID-19.

6. Write down emergency contacts (for example, with permanent marker on your arm) in case of an arrest. Wear nondescript solid-colored clothing and comfortable shoes.

7. Find your local National Lawyers Guild (NLG) contact hot-line number in case you or someone with you need legal representation. NLG provides low or pro bono representation for activists under arrest.

8. Avoid singing or yelling, which is more likely to increase the risk of spreading COVID-19. Use alternate ways to express solidarity, like signs or noisemakers. 

9. Always stay with someone you know or a group you know, if possible. Make sure to tell this group that you have diabetes and what your medical needs are. Decide on a meet-up spot in advance in case you lose contact with your group. 

10.  During the protest, trust your instincts – when something does not seem right, leave.

After protests, be sure to:

  1. Shower and put your clothes in the wash as soon as you get home from the protest.

  2. Disinfect your belongings. For example, spray your backpack with a disinfectant. Leave your shoes outside.

  3. If possible, get tested for COVID-19 before you protest and after being around large groups to maintain your own health and the health of your community. Consider self-isolation for 14 days after protesting if you can't get tested.

See this resource for more tips on how to protest safely. Importantly, please stay home when sick.

We envision a world in which everyone with diabetes has access to the healthcare they need, regardless of race, ethnicity, or ability to pay. Through peaceful assembly, groups can demand change. If you choose to protest, make sure to stay up-to-date on the information you need to stay as safe as possible.

We spoke to Rahel Petros, who has lived with type 1 diabetes since 2005. She is a protest organizer in Maryland. She said, “Your diabetes doesn’t have to stop you from advocating for what you care about, and activism in any fashion still helps.” 

Of course, we understand that many people living with diabetes may not feel comfortable protesting during COVID-19 for their own and others' safety. Here are a few other ways to support this movement from your home:  

  • Continue to support Black-owned restaurants and businesses (this iOS app can help you find Black-owned businesses in your area)  

  • Support protests beyond the streets

  • Drop off snacks, first-aid kits, and water to protesters

  • Learn about how to practice active anti-racism from Ibram X. Kendi’s “How to be an Anti-Racist

  • Learn about Black activism (resource created by Charles Preston, a Black transperson)

  • Donate to a grassroots organization supporting Black rights – a comprehensive list can be found here. Two include:

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