CITY HALL – Anger and grief are mingling yet again on the nation’s streets, including in St. Louis, as demonstrators protest the death of a black Minneapolis man during his arrest by a white police officer. But this time, in addition to the longstanding societal issues that contribute to violence, we face the continuing threat of COVID-19. And both can be deadly.
Mayor Lyda Krewson’s scheduled press conference Monday on the coronavirus turned into an urgent plea for nonviolence and social distancing on the part of protesters.
“We know that the grief and the anger caused by the killing of George Floyd, and the culmination of so many unjustified killings, have racked our country,” Krewson said in her live-streamed Facebook session.
“We respect everyone’s right to protest in a nonviolent way,” she said. “Maybe loud, but nonviolent.”
She described the peaceful demonstrations Friday evening and praised police for their restrained stance. But she condemned what she called “other factions that are within the protest group that then take the protest in a different way, in a violent way.” They create a difficult situation for the protesters and for police, she said.
During this latest “ongoing, national protest against violence,” she assured her audience, “We are listening.”
“We recognize that there are changes, cultural changes, that need to be made.” However, she warned, officials “can’t condone, don’t condone, any sort of violence or looting. We don’t want people to get hurt.”
Standing up against one kind of injury may bring others, she worries.
“As a country, we’ve spent the past two and a half months trying to keep everyone safe from COVID, and this … brings up all of the issues” about the coronavirus – including its disproportionate effect on black people. Officials don’t want the protests to contribute even more to the toll.
Krewson said the city would hand out face masks at protests, hoping to reduce at least some of the risk to them and others.
“We can’t stop thinking about COVID,” she emphasized, and urged people to protest “in a way that doesn’t endanger other people or property.”
“Violence is also a health pandemic. We all know that,” she added.
Turning to the recent coronavirus data, Krewson reported that the numbers continue to improve, with fewer cases, hospitalizations, ICU patients and ventilators.
More people are being discharged from hospitals, too. But the mayor noted that just because someone is discharged doesn’t mean he or she is truly well again. Recovery can be a drawn-out process.
So the same message holds: Wear masks! Keep at least six feet apart! Wash your hands! That’s “the only path” between the stay-at-home order and eventual full reopening. If the virus starts spreading more rapidly again, we may lose the progress we’ve made.
“None of us wants to go back … to some form of a stay-at-home order,” she acknowledged.
A listener noted that officials had urged anyone who was at the infamous Lake of the Ozarks parties over Memorial Day weekend to self-quarantine. The listener suggested that protesters do the same.
The suggestion found favor with the mayor.
“It would be a good idea.” Shouting such as is done at protests expels more air and droplets, she pointed out, and COVID-19 “is still out there.”
It’s been two weeks since the area allowed the first wave of so-called nonessential businesses to reopen, with restrictions. In another week, on June 8, large venues can open with approved procedures.
Among those venues are Union Station, the St. Louis Aquarium and the St. Louis Wheel. The Zoo and the Missouri Botanical Garden have announced opening dates of June 13 and June 16, respectively.
After that, if numbers hold good, in three to four weeks – July 1 or so – those large venues may be able to increase the number of visitors allowed in, Krewson said. She made no promises, however.