Protesting Safer in a Pandemic Protocol

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This page describes protocol, or, how to do things with QueerCare. You should check how to read protocol well if you're new to QueerCare.
This page is specific to the COVID-19 pandemic. Our covid protocol still focuses on somewhat older science relating to droplet transmission. We are currently reviewing this. It will be updated rapidly.

This protocol gives guidance on additional measures on safer protesting during the COVID-19 pandemic. It is intended for people doing first aid or welfare support with QueerCare, but may also be of interest for others attending protests.

At present, mass gatherings of any form will pose an increased risk of catching and spreading COVID-19, regardless of what measures are taken.

You must not attend a protest if:

  • You are displaying any symptoms of COVID-19
  • You share a household with someone who has shown symptoms of COVID-19 within the past 14 days.
  • You have been in close contact with someone who has shown symptoms of COVID-19 within the past 14 days.


Please note this protocol has been developed in the context of UK protests. Some of the advice may vary depending on police tactics in other jurisdictions. At time of writing there is not widespread use of chemical weapons by police in the UK, but our riot control agent protocol includes some comments on special considerations during the COVID-19 pandemic.

What to take with you

In addition to your usual supplies, during the COVID-19 pandemic you should include the following.

  • Hand sanitiser
  • Face masks.
    • Use surgical masks whenever they are available, or cloth face coverings if surgical masks are in short supply.
    • Since the efficacy of masks and face coverings decreases over time, wear one face covering to travel and bring a fresh one to put on immediately before you enter the protest.
    • If possible, bring supplies so that you can change masks every couple of hours, bearing in mind that you may end up staying out for longer than you intended (e.g. if you are kettled)
    • Use masks with earloops if possible, as these will be easier to handle if you need to eat/drink while on the move.
  • A spare outer layer of clothes, especially if you are returning to a household with people who were not on the protest
  • A sealable bag for contaminated items (used masks and contaminated outer clothing)

Before you leave the house

You should:

  • Thoroughly wash your hands before packing your bag for the protest
  • Disinfect or scrub with soapy water any any disinfectable kit you have handled in the past 3 days.
  • Clean your phone carefully with a soapy cloth if you are taking it with you and are likely to handle it during the protest
  • Wear freshly washed outer clothes, or clothes that haven't been handled in the last 3 days.
    • This includes tabards/hi-vis if you will be wearing one, for example: designated first aiders or legal observers.
  • Wash your hands again just before you head out.

You can:

  • Tie your hair up or wear it under a hat if it is likely to get in your face during the protest. This is to reduce the risk that you will touch your face and spread virus from your face to your hands.

Travelling to/from the protest

  • If possible, travel by pavement, bike, a private car, or a taxi.
    • If you are planning to travel by car with another person who is not a member of your household, see the Ridesharing protocol for more detail about how to reduce the risks of COVID-19 transmission in this environment.
  • If you use public transport, try not to touch surfaces with your hands. Use hand sanitiser after travelling, or wear gloves which you can remove after travelling.
    • Many train stations now have free hand sanitiser pumps.
    • If wearing gloves you should remove these immediately after leaving the bus or train station, taking care that you do not touch the exterior with your bare hands. (See Glove protocol for instructions)
  • You should wear a mask or face covering for travelling.

After finishing your journey, but before entering the main crowd you should:

  • Remove the mask you wore for travelling, putting it in a sealable bag, then sanitise your hands.
  • Put on a fresh mask and sanitise your hands again.

At the protest

These steps may not always be possible to follow during more mobile or volatile protests and when faced with police violence/kettling. However they are still factors to consider when assessing your individual comfort and risk levels around taking part in protests during COVID-19.

Masks

Social distancing at protests is hard to achieve, and often out of the control of individual protesters. Protests should be considered close contact situations

  • You should wear surgical masks where possible.
  • You should not remove your mask when shouting/chanting, as these can significantly increase the amount of infectious particles you may emit.[1] [2]
  • If you are wearing a 3-ply surgical mask, you should replace it when it begins to become damp with moisture from your mouth. If you are wearing a fabric face covering or a 2-ply disposable mask, you should try to replace it with a fresh one every 2 hours, or more frequently if possible. [3]
    1. Try to change masks at a quiet point during the protest, so that you can easily follow hygiene procedures.
    2. Sanitise your hands before removing the old mask.
    3. Put the old mask in a sealable bag imediately after removal, and sanitise your hands again.
    4. Put on a fresh mask and sanitise your hands again.

Eating and Drinking While Wearing Masks

Static Protests

If the protest is static, or you are able to safely take a rest stop:

  1. Move to an area where you can keep a distance from others.
  2. Use hand sanitiser before you remove your mask
  3. Take the mask off, handling it by the earloops/ties. Do not touch the face area.
    • If possible, store the used face covering in a bag and put on a fresh one after eating.
    • If you will need to put the same face covering back on, place it on a disposable paper towel or tissue, outer side facing down. [4]
  4. Use hand sanitiser after removing the mask
  5. Eat and drink, minimising your time not wearing a mask.
    • Avoid talking while your mask is off - talking will increase the number of infectious particles you may emit.
  6. Use hand sanitiser before you replace your mask
  7. Put the mask back on, making sure that you only touch the earloops/ties
  8. Make sure you put it back on with the same side facing outwards.
  9. Use hand sanitiser after you replace your mask

Moving protests

There is no entirely 'safe' way of eating or drinking on the move whilst wearing a mask, however it is still very important to keep hydrated and fed whilst on a protest. The following guidance should not be used outside of mobile protest scenarios. In other circumstances, you should always remove your mask and set it aside before eating/drinking.

  • Move to an area where you can keep a distance from others, if possible.
  • Avoid talking while your mask is off - talking will increase the number of infectious particles you may emit. [1] [2]
  • Remember that, if you are presymptomatically infected with COVID-19, the inside of your mask will be contaminated with virus that you have exhaled. If you push the mask up or down, or insert your hand underneath the mask face, this increases the risk of spreading contamination.
  • Try to minimise your contact with the face of the mask, and handle it by the fastenings only.
  • Sanitise your hands very thoroughly if you cannot avoid touching the face area of the mask.

Our suggested techniques are as follows.

If your mask has earloops
  1. Use hand sanitiser before you remove your mask
  2. Open your bottle/snack and hold it in one hand.
  3. Unhook the loop from one ear, using the hand on the opposite side of the body (e.g. use your left hand to remove the loop from the right ear, while holding your water bottle in your right hand.).
  4. Leave the loop hooked on the other ear, and bring the mask down to hang vertically from that ear (e.g. if you removed the loop from your right ear, the mask would now be hanging from your left ear, with the free loop held in your left hand).
  5. Keep holding the free loop, to make sure that the mask does not blow away and to prevent the face of the mask from rubbing against your neck.
  6. Use your other hand to eat or drink
  7. When you have finished, put the loop that you are holding back onto the other ear.
  8. Use hand sanitiser after you replace your mask.
If your mask has ties and no earloops
  1. Use hand sanitiser before you remove your mask
  2. You will probably need both hands to unfasten the ties. Undo the lower ties first, then the upper ones.
  3. Holding the upper ties, dangle the mask from one hand
  4. Try to open your bottle/snack without using this hand, or minimising use of this hand, and avoid contact with the face of the mask.
  5. Use your free hand to eat and drink
  6. When you have finished, replace the mask, making sure you put it back on with the same side facing outwards.
  7. Use hand sanitiser after you replace your mask.
If you cannot remove your mask

If you are unable or unwilling to remove your mask during the protest (e.g. because of security concerns, or because the design does not allow you to do this easily) you can:

  1. Insert a disposable plastic straw underneath the mask, so that you can drink while minimising contact with the face of the mask.
  2. Place the straw in a sealed bag after use.
    • Remember that this straw will be potentially contaminated with virus from your saliva.
    • If possible, use a fresh straw each time
  3. Sanitise your hands very thoroughly after drinking

Please note that this is the least ideal of the proposed methods as it requires contact with the face of the mask

After the protest

  • To minimise the risk of bringing the virus into your home, you should remove your outer layer of clothing, especially your top, before entering your home.
    • These should be washed at 60°C as soon as possible and stored in a sealed bag if this cannot be done straight away.
    • If worn on the protest, you should also wash any tabards or hi-vis items, check the label for washing instructions for these.
  • Put any rucksacks or other non-washable items into an area where they can be quarantined safely, and leave for 72 hours before handling.
  • Wash your hands imediately after handling any contaminated clothes or your bag.
  • You should wash thoroughly, including your hair, as soon as possible after returning from the protest.
  • You should avoid contact with people at high risk from the effects of COVID-19 for 14 days following the protest.

If you are part of a welfare team

Supplies such as masks, water, snacks, etc, are important for the safety of protestors, but the act of distributing them risks spreading the virus between protesters, back into the community, and contracting the virus yourself. You should take additional precautions, and chose your items carefully to reduce the risk.

Distribution should:

  • Be done at arms length where possible.
  • Be done directly by the welfare team, rather than passing around a bag of supplies which may be handled by people with unsanitised hands.
  • Be done during calmer moments if possible, when it is easier to follow safe procedures for sanitising hands etc.
  • If there are multiple protests taking place over a short period, try to ensure that different people distribute the items on different days, since the risk that a person is infected will increase every time they carry out this role.

Welfare kit

Hand sanitiser is an essential part of welfare supplies during the pandemic. If you are doing welfare, you should

  • Sanitise your hands frequently whilst distributing, after every few groups at minimum.
  • Offer protestors hand sanitiser to use before any other welfare items.
  • This can work well as a buddy-pair, with 1 buddy handing out items, and the other with hand sanitiser to reduce cross-contamination.
  • If an item cannot be handed over without touching it, but a protestor does not want to take items which you have handled, you should give them hand sanitiser before they extract the item.

Water

  • Handing out individual 330ml bottles is preferable.
  • If you are using a large bottle, you should:
    • Also take disposable cups.
    • Only refill a person's individual bottle/flask if you can be sure that the mouth of the large bottle does not come in contact with the mouth of the bottle being filled. (This will be contaminated with the person's saliva).
    • Wide-necked flasks can be refilled, but it will be difficult to refill a small disposable bottle safely.

Snacks

  • Individually wrapped snacks are preferable
  • Chose items which can easily be extracted from their packaging and handed over at arm's length, e.g. a bag of wrapped sweets will be easier to handle than a tube.

Sun Screen

  • Spray bottle sunscreen is preferable as this can be distributed at a distance more easily than creams.
    • If cream is being used, the welfare team should take care that the bottle does not make direct contact with the person.
  • Sun screen should be sprayed into the outstretched hand of the person for them to apply. This is to reduce time spent in close proximity, and maximise distancing.

Surgical masks

  • Sanitise your hands before each mask you distribute.
  • Only handle masks by the earloops. Do not touch the face of the mask.
  • When handing out masks, you should check that people know the correct way to wear them.
  • Offer people hand sanitiser to use before and after they put a mask on.
  • If it is likely that kettling will be used against the protest, you can hold back a supply of masks to hand out and encourage people to change into a fresh mask when a kettle is formed.
  1. 1.0 1.1 Asadi et al The coronavirus pandemic and aerosols: Does COVID-19 transmit via expiratory particles?; Accessed: 2020-05-24
  2. 2.0 2.1 Stadnytskyi et al The airborne lifetime of small speech droplets and their potential importance in SARS-CoV-2 transmission; Accessed: 2020-05-24
  3. Kelkar et al, 'How effective are face masks in operating theatre?'; Accessed: 2020-05-24
  4. [{{{3}}} Nebraska Medicine, 'Universal Masking Guidelines'; Accessed: 2020-05-24]