SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 News) – Could mass gatherings at protests throughout the state this week threaten the progress the state has made with COVID-19? That’s what state health officials fear as more demonstrations are scheduled for this week.

As Salt Lake City moved to the orange phase of the state’s COVID-19 recovery plan, health officials gave the green light to have up to 20 people at social gatherings. But at demonstrations that began Saturday in response to the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, thousands of people gathered in close proximity.

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Marchers, some not wearing masks, could be seen chanting and in some cases, screaming. Experts said when people yell or speak in a loud voice, they have more projection of saliva and potentially, the virus. In addition, packed-in and moving crowds pose challenges for protesters to stay a safe distance away from each other.

“From a public health perspective, the behaviors we saw at protests over the weekend were alarming. As our increasing case counts have indicated, we are nowhere near being out-of-the woods when it comes to the spread of COVID-19 in our communities,” wrote State Epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn in a statement.

She went on to say, “Large group gatherings, especially where social distancing is not feasible or not practiced, are simply not safe right now.”

As of Tuesday afternoon, Utah Department of Health reported 10,202 total positive cases, which is an increase of 203 cases from Monday. Out of that number, 6,251 have recovered. The daily rate increase is currently at two percent. A total of 221,791 tests have been performed with with a 4.6 percent positive result rate. Currently, there are 95 people hospitalized for COVID-19.

Tom Hudachko with the state’s health department explained exposing yourself to a public area with large groups of people that you don’t know makes it hard for health officials to properly carry out a process called contract tracing if you catch the virus.

“We’ll try to nail down anybody who they may have been in contact with while they were potentially infectious. We will walk through, with that individual, where they have been over the course of the past several days. Obviously in a situation like the protest that we saw, that becomes very difficult to do,” said Hudachko.

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He said they won’t know the impact of these protests for at least a couple more weeks.

That’s about how long it would probably take to identify cases that may have been contracted at one of the protests based on incubation period of the disease,” said Hudachko. “It was reassuring to see that there were definitely a portion of the crowd who were wearing masks. But masks aren’t fool-proof, social distancing is certainly the most effective way to stop the spread of this illness.”

Dr. Dunn said those who attended the protests should monitor themselves for symptoms. If they develop any, they should get tested and isolate themselves until they get the results.