Tear Gas Could Increase Spread of Coronavirus Among Protesters, Experts Say

June 5, 2020

    As crowds gather around the nation protesting the death of George Floyd amid a pandemic, some of the demonstrations have resulted in tear gas being used to disperse protestors.

    And while many continue to wear masks while exercising their right to peacefully protest, experts warn the use of tear gas and pepper spray by law enforcement could still further the spread of coronavirus, reported the LA Times.

    On top of pain and discomfort, tear gas can cause people to remove their masks and make one more prone to touch their eyes, nose or mouth. It can also cause coughing, which could make it more likely for the droplets from an infected person to spread to others.

    Duke University researcher Sven-Eric Jordt, who has studied the effects of tear gas, believes the use of the chemical agent in recent days may further increase the chances of community spread of the novel virus.

    “I’m really concerned that this might catalyze a new wave of COVID-19,” Jordt told the Baltimore Sun.

    Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, a professor of medicine and an infectious diseases specialist at UC San Francisco, also believes tear gas could further exacerbate the pandemic by irritating or inflaming the lungs and making individuals more vulnerable to infection.

    For this reason, Chin-Hong joined over 1200 medical and public health officials to sign a petition urging law enforcement to stop using tear gas and other respiratory irritants on protestors.

    The petition also advocates law enforcement to not place protestors in confined spaces, like vans or jails, and advises demonstrators to use face coverings, maintain six-feet apart, and staying with one group over mingling with large crowds.

    “Our approach was to meet people where they were,” Chin-Hong told the LA Times. “We wanted to support people’s voices in this national time of sadness and tragedy. We wanted to make the people as safe as possible when they went out, arming them with the science behind it, and then maybe advocating for law enforcement to be a little bit more humane.”

    Nationwide protests have continued since Floyd died in police custody after a now-fired white police officer knelt on his neck for over eight minutes on May 25.

    On Thursday, celebrities and politicians were among the hundreds of mourners present at a memorial to grieve the loss and lend support to the Floyd family in Minneapolis.

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