In nationwide demonstrations against the police killing of George Floyd and other black Americans, protesters are frequently pepper-sprayed or enveloped in clouds of tear gas. These crowd-control weapons are rarely lethal, but in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, there are growing calls for police to stop using these chemical irritants because they can damage the body in ways that can spread the coronavirus and increase the severity of COVID-19.
Even before the coronavirus pandemic, some experts said additional research was needed on the risks of tear gas — an umbrella term for several chemical “riot control agents” used by law enforcement. It’s known that the chemicals can have both immediate and long-term health effects.
Their widespread use in recent weeks, while an infectious disease continues to spread across the U.S., has stunned experts and physicians. The coronavirus that causes the disease COVID-19 is highly contagious, spreads easily through the air via droplets and can lead to severe or fatal respiratory illness. Deploying these corrosive, inhalable chemicals could harm people in several ways: expose more people to the virus, compromise the body’s ability to fight off the infection, and even cause mild infections to become more severe illnesses.
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