Kitchener-Waterloo

Solidarity march may draw hundreds, officials worry about physical distancing

As plans for a solidarity march in Kitchener-Waterloo for Black Lives Matter unfold, health and regional officials are sharing their thoughts on physical distancing and demonstrations during the COVID-19 pandemic.

‘I would recommend that they self-monitor themselves for 14 days afterwards,’ Wang says

A mural depicting George Floyd who was killed while in police custody in Minneapolis. (Christian Mang/Reuters)

As plans for a solidarity march in Kitchener for Black Lives Matter unfold, health and regional officials are sharing their thoughts on physical distancing and demonstrations during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The K-W Solidarity March for Black Lives Matter  — scheduled for 5 p.m. on Wednesday — is being organized by local black rights activist Selam Debs. It comes amid global outrage over the police killing of George Floyd in the United States.

Dr. Hsiu-Li Wang, Associate Medical Officer of Health of the Region of Waterloo, said while citizens have the right to peaceful protests, there continues to be a provincial order in place restricting gatherings beyond five people and there is a public health reason for that.

"I understand that there may be thousands at this event [and] that organizers have asked those who come to maintain physical distancing and wear masks," Wang told CBC News.

"The larger the crowds, the harder it will be to maintain physical distancing. Such large gatherings are high-risk, so I am worried."

Like Wang, regional chair Karen Redman said while people have the right to peaceful demonstrations, there is a convergence of two huge issues at play – the COVID-19 pandemic and a need to not tolerate racism or discrimination of any kind.

"While people have the right to peaceful demonstrations, we have huge concerns of a gathering of that size," Redman told CBC News. 

"People do have a right to assemble, they do have a right to peaceful demonstration. It's very very concerning in a time of pandemic … we really worry about a second wave coming with this massive number of people gathering."

Wearing masks mandatory

Meanwhile, Debs said any individual experiencing COVID-19 symptoms should stay home and follow the live feed of the march via the event's Facebook page.

"We're asking for mandatory masks … and we're received an overwhelming amount of donations of masks, gloves, first aid; and, we have the support of the community," Debs told CBC News.

"We have asked for people to also maintain social distancing of two metres from each other throughout the march, to march in groups of five or less and to maintain a distance of six feet between each group."

Wang is urging people to carefully consider the impact of being in large gatherings, especially if they care for, or live with, people whose health is vulnerable. 

"The people we most often pass our infection to, are the people we are closest to. And if people are going to participate, I would recommend that they self-monitor themselves for 14 days afterwards," she said.

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