Protests have long served as a positive agent for social change in the U.S., and OHSU stands with those peacefully protesting against the police brutality that has resulted in the senseless deaths of Black men and women time and time again. As recent protests prompted by George Floyd’s death have grown and escalated nationwide, however, the use of tear gas and other chemical means to control crowds has raised great concern among medical professionals as we simultaneously try to manage a global pandemic.
While large gatherings in general provide increased opportunities for the transmission of COVID-19, the use of tear gas could significantly exacerbate the spread. Tear gas is a chemical that attacks the mucous membranes of the eyes, nose, throat and lungs and causes severe pain and irritation; exposure to tear gas can result in blindness, bleeding, crying and coughing. The release of airborne droplets through tear gas-induced coughing could accelerate the spread of COVID-19 and lead to a surge in new cases. Damage to the respiratory tract can put individuals at greater risk of adverse outcomes if they become infected with COVID-19.
We understand both that many people want to show their support by joining these protests and that nonviolent demonstrations are extremely important and powerful. If you do participate, please remember to adhere to the recommended public safety guidelines that will reduce the transmission of COVID-19:
• Wear a face mask or covering
• Try to maintain six feet of physical distance from other people
• Wash your hands, face covering and clothing as soon as you return home
• Immediately seek medical care if you develop symptoms
Danny Jacobs, M.D., M.P.H., F.A.C.S., OHSU President