Tear Gas Used in Protests May Help Spread COVID-19, Health Experts Warn

COVID-19

Health experts fear the spread of COVID-19 in tear gas used in the protests but continue to support the cause.

More cases: In the coming weeks, there could be another wave of COVID-19 cases to emerge out of the large gatherings from the protests. Symptoms and incubations vary, such as in the case of one of NextShark’s interviewees, whose severe case of the virus took two weeks to incubate and lasted 41 days since his initial exposure until his self-quarantine release.

  • USA Today compiled a timeline from when the protests started on May 26 and an interactive map on how it continues to dot the nation.
  • Even before the protests, COVID-19 cases are rising in the U.S., and with the compounded factor of the protests, CNN chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta said “there is going to be an impact.”

The dangers: Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, a UC San Francisco professor of medicine and an infectious diseases specialist, warned of possible spread through the bodily reactions of being tear-gassed or pepper-sprayed.

  • The “tear gas causes [protestors] to cough, shout and scream [sending] infectious droplets from an infected person to others,” he said to the LA Times.
  • Those wearing masks are still susceptible when gassed because they are likely to remove them and “rub their eyes, nose and mouth.” A person already averaged touching their face 23 times an hour, according to a  2015 study from the National Library of Medicine.
  • “Respiratory irritants inflame the inside of the nose and mouth and the lining of lung tissues, making the body more susceptible to infection,” Dr. Chin-Hong continued.
  • Asymptomatic carriers are also a factor and assessed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to be among 20 to 50% of those infected.

The response: Dr. Chin-Hong and more than 1,000 experts in public health, doctors, social workers, medical students, epidemiologists and those working in infectious diseases, supported the protests but asked for a “more humane” way for the law enforcement to respond in an open letter drafted on Sunday.

  • The petition called for the importance of recognizing the harm of White supremacy and how minorities, especially the  Black communities are affected disproportionately from COVID-19 transmission and deaths. It read, “protests against systemic racism, which fosters the disproportionate burden of COVID-19 on Black communities and also perpetuates police violence, must be supported.”
  • Rachel Bender Ignacio, one of its founders, and a fellow infectious disease specialist said the goals were to (1) address the public’s concerns about the protests spreading the virus, and (2) to assist “public health workers formulate anti-racist responses to media questions about the health implications,” according to Slate.
  • Experts and officials also talked about ways of reducing risks of spread, including face shields, hand sanitizer, distancing, not detaining protesters in confined spaces like police vans and cells, not deploying “harsh munition” on protesters that will force them to crowd or into “places of greater danger,” according to KQED.
  • Dr. Fauci was “cautiously optimistic” about a vaccine, but the public may not see its use until the end of the year or by next year, according to CNN.

The health experts’ support:

Feature Image via Getty

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