Lockdowns, mass protests fuel debate over COVID spread, social justice

The convergence of the coronavirus recovery and mass protests against police brutality continued to grip the nation on Tuesday, spurring rising concerns from public health officials about the virus’s spread.

Globally, the virus has affected 6.3 million individuals and killed more than 376,000. In the U.S., while daily cases remain largely flat, the case count has climbed well past 1.8 million, and the death toll has now surpassed 105,000.

With cities and states slowly emerging from lockdown, health experts and elected officials have been concerned about coronavirus counts in states which have eased stay-at-home restrictions more quickly than others.

The protests rocking the nation now add another dimension to the debate, as scenes of large gatherings have fed new fears about the potential spread of the virus, sparking curfews in several big cities.

Yet many have also voiced support for the demonstrations, which have been growing steadily following the policing killing of George Floyd in Minnesota. Andy Slavitt, a former CMS director under President Barack Obama that has become a prominent voice during the pandemic, backed the demonstrators.

Similarly, other health professionals are highlighting the dual-front battle the country is engaged in.

“There is a risk of COVID transmission during these protests,” Danielle Ompad, an associate professor of epidemiology at New York University, told Yahoo Finance’s On The Move Tuesday.

“However, on the other hand we are protesting issues related to health, particularly violence against black people,” she added. Ompad stated that protesters to continue to pay attention to safety steps like maintaining social distancing, and wearing masks.

Caitlin Rivers, an assistant professor at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, and Farzad Mostashari, a former HHS official, also voiced similar concerns.

“As an epidemiologist of course I am worried about COVID + crowds, but as a public health professional and community member I am also worried about disparities in justice and health. Risk mitigation for protesters: masks, distancing, hand sanitizer, eye protection,” Rivers posted on Twitter.

Highlighted the health disparities in the African-American community, Mostashari added that “they’re working the essential jobs that expose them to the virus. They’re more likely to have chronic stress and chronic conditions that put them at higher risk. When they end up at the hospital, studies have shown that they are more likely to get worse care. Black in America.”

Moderna under fire

There are over 1.8 million coronavirus cases in the U.S. (Graphic: David Foster/Yahoo Finance)

Moderna’s (MRNA) stock slumped Tuesday after former Securities and Exchange Commission officials told CNN they were concerned about the timing of recent insider transactions. The company has been at the forefront in the race to develop a COVID-19 vaccine.

Harvey Pitt, former chairman of the SEC, called the timing of the share sales “highly problematic,” and another former SEC official said the regulatory body should be investigating, according to CNN.

The $89 million in shares sold by executives were prescheduled through a corporate 105b-1 trading plan, an SEC rule that allows such scheduled trading for corporate insiders. Moderna’s stock, which hit an all-time high of $76 per share last month after positive news about its vaccine candidate, fell more than 6% after the news.

The day after, chief medical officer and chief financial officer of Moderna had pre-scheduled shares sold. Days later, the largest shareholder, venture capital firm Flagship Pioneering, sold $1 million in shares.

Meanwhile, one law firm is gearing up to file a class action lawsuit. Hagens Berman released a statement for investors to file their losses ahead of time.

Questions about the effectiveness of its coronavirus vaccine candidate swirled after the company shared Phase I trial results. Moderna is pursuing a vaccine developed through a new technology, messenger RNA, which has never before been on the market.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, whose department is also running clinical trials on the vaccine, has said he is optimistic about the results.

Anjalee Khemlani is a reporter at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter: @AnjKhem

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