Thousands of protesters from different cities and states of the United States gathered together to show their support for the black community and the Black Lives Matter movement. This occurs after the death of George Floyd, who was killed by Minneapolis police officer by kneeling on his neck, causing choke.

COVID-19 George Floyd protesters black lives matter tear gas
(Photo : Lindsey Wasson/REUTERS)

But there's a looming threat ahead apart from the rubber bullets: the novel coronavirus infection or COVID-19.

Higher Risks of COVID-19 Infection

Besides the fact that people have been gathering and are avoiding social distancing while protesting, experts also warned that the tear gas that the riot police are using could increase the chances of protesters of getting infected with the virus.

In a Daily Mail report, several infectious disease experts are urging the police to discontinue tearing gas through an online petition.

Tear gas is an irritant used by the police and the army since World War I to "make people unable to function" as it's designed to irritate the eyes, throat, and nose, with instantaneous effects.

It is made from chlorobenzylidenemalononitrile or CS gas, while some police forces use chloroacetophenone (CN), which is another alternative.

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How Could Tear Help Spread the Virus?

In the case of George Floyd protesters, irritation could lead to coughing to help them expel the chemicals, along with other behaviors that can help the coronavirus spread quickly among tightly-packed protesters, according to Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, an infectious disease specialist from the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF).

Additionally, the irritants in a tear gas could also leave the respiratory tract more vulnerable to COVID-19.

"There are two groups of people in terms of how it might increase COVID transmission," the specialist said. "People who may have COVID - maybe they know it, maybe they don't, if they are asymptomatic - when you use tear gas or pepper spray or an irritant designed to make people cough or sneeze, the droplets get superpowers, and they're going to travel further."

The specialist explained further, saying that the next group is those who don't have the virus.

In the event of a tear gas attack, they would have to remove their masks as health experts suggest; otherwise, the chemicals will continue irritating the eyes, nose, and mouth.

They would also most likely rub their eyes, noses, and mouths, which is something you're not supposed to do during this pandemic as it could increase your risks of getting the viral infection as the virus enters through these parts.

Stripping Our Defenses

Worst, tear gas may also remove the body of its defenses against pathogens, although it hasn't been scientifically tested with the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

Chemicals in a tear gas could affect the mucous membrane in the nose and mouth that protect our body from foreign objects and various pathogens from our environment.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), prolonged exposure to tear gas chemicals could also heighten risks for asthma, cataracts, respiratory failure, and internal chemical burns that could be fatal.

Besides tear gas, Dr. Chin-Hong and other health experts are also urging the police to stop using pepper spray.

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