“I do think there is a potential, unfortunately, for this to be a seeding event,” Dr Robert Redfield said during a House Appropriations hearing on Thursday.
The director also recommended that those who attended protests inform their loved ones and get tested within three to seven days of being out in public to prevent the spread of infection.
Protests have been sparked across the US in all 50 states over the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed black man. He died on 25 May after a Minneapolis police officer pinned him to the ground by his neck for a prolonged period of time.
The director stipulated that risk of infection is higher in major cities where there's been significant transmission, noting in particular Minneapolis and the District of Columbia as areas where significant transmission is still taking place, The Seattle Times reported.
The recommendations came during the director's testimony to the House Appropriations about the CDC’s response to Covid-19.
In a discussion of the protests the director also spoke about the use of tear gas and chemical agents in connection to the spread of the virus.
In an exchange with Representative Mark Pocan, Dr Redfield noted that use of such agents can cause people to cough, which is recognised as one of the most effective ways of spreading the highly infectious disease.
“Definitely, coughing can spread respiratory viruses, including Covid-19,” Dr Redfield said, CNN reported.
“I think you raised an important point we have advocated strongly, the ability to have face coverings and masks available to protesters, so that they can at least have those coverings,” he said.
Other officials have also expressed fear that the large gatherings at Floyd protests could lead to a second peak in cases of the virus.
“It makes me cringe on a number of levels,” Dr Katie Passaretti, medical director for infection prevention at Atrium Health in Charlotte, North Carolina told NBC News about the protests.
“It’s a setup for further spread of Covid,” she added. “It’s heartbreaking.”
Covid-19, the respiratory disease that has led to the deaths of more than 100,000 people across the US, is thought to be mainly spread through close contact, sneezing, coughing and shouting.
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms also advised protestors to get tested for the disease if they had been out protesting.
“If you were out protesting last night, you probably need to go get a Covid test this week,” she said on Sunday.
“Because there’s still a pandemic in America that’s killing black and brown people at higher numbers,” she added in the news briefing, according to NBC News.
Data has emerged throughout the pandemic showing that African Americans are being disproportionately affected by the virus, both in terms of infections and deaths.
The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene has advised that anyone planning to protest amidst the virus should wear a face covering, use hand sanitiser and try to keep within a small group at least six metres away from others when possible, among other measures.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies