The Dangers of Using Tear Gas During a Viral Pandemic
Police across the U.S. have used tear gas to disperse crowds assembling to protest the death of George Floyd and to decry police brutality, and infectious disease experts are urging them to stop.
The chemical "riot agent," they warn, could cause coronavirus to spread more quickly.
Agent CS (2-chlorobenzalmalononitrile), or tear gas, was invented over a century ago and has been used for crowd control during civil unrest ever since, Insider reported. Tear gas has been banned during warfare by almost every country, but U.S. domestic law enforcement can still legally use it to control riots, USA Today reported.
The chemical, which is actually a solid, white powder, dissolves into a "painful, acidic liquid" when mixed with water, sweat and oils in our skin, Insider noted.
At a minimum, it's an irritant to the eyes, mouth, throat, lungs and skin that can cause eyes to tear, runny nose, drooling, coughing, chest tightness and vomiting, effects that typically last 15 to 30 minutes, The State reported. If tear gas gets in the eyes, it can cause temporary blindness, and exposed skin can feel like it's burning, Insider reported. Heat and humidity intensify the pain.
These "excessive" bodily secretions, along with shouting at protests, mean more respiratory droplets are emitted, which increases the chance of coronavirus transmission, said Dr. Payal Kohli, reported The State.
University of California at San Francisco infectious disease specialist Dr. Peter Chin-Hong told KTVU Fox2, "The acute effects are particularly salient when we think of COVID-19." When infected individuals are tear-gassed, they will cough more and increase risk of community-spread, he said. With healthy individuals, tear-gassing "makes it easier for virus to come and set up shop."
Chin-Hong and other experts have circulated an online petition calling for the end of tear-gassing during the pandemic and report that people with repeat tear gas exposure can suffer lung illnesses like chronic bronchitis.
"I'm really concerned that this might catalyze a new wave of COVID-19," Sven-Eric Jordt told The New York Times. The Duke University researcher studies the effects of tear gas agents and said he was "shocked" at how widespread police use of the control agent had become.
Ayesha Appa, an infectious disease doctor at the University of California San Francisco, said tear gas "seems like a particularly cruel intervention at this time in which the country is facing a respiratory virus that is sweeping the country with unprecedented rates of disease," reported The State.
Many experts noted that the gas affects anyone in the area it is deployed in, including peaceful individuals and sometimes police officers, Insider reported.
In a letter to the city of Oakland, councilmembers urged the immediate halt of tear gas use for crowd control, reported KLTV Fox 2. Residents complained of tear gas "reaching the 14th floor of their building and creeping into their apartment, as well as a tear gas canister landing on their rooftop and catching grass on fire," the letter stated. Another resident, whose car had been gassed, was sprayed in his face when he turned on the engine the following day because the chemical got trapped in his air vents.
Insider reported how "many black Americans disproportionately have pre-existing conditions like asthma that could make tear gas lethal." Additionally, crowd-control weapons expert and emergency physician Dr. Rohini Haar warned Insider that tear gas may be "especially hard" on children, the elderly and those with chronic respiratory conditions.
Sarah Grossman, a 22-year-old young woman died days after being tear-gassed at a Columbus rally, reported NY Daily News. Initial media speculation suggested that tear gas may have triggered an underlying respiratory issue, but her death remains under investigation, Dayton Daily News reported.
Harr also warned that tear gas canisters themselves often cause the most permanent disabilities and harm, "especially when they hit the head or the neck, the eyes, the delicate bones of the face," Insider reported. 21-year-old student Balin Brake lost his right eye after a tear gas canister hit his head during demonstrations, reported Journal Gazette.
Even without tear gas concerns, protests during a pandemic already caused alarm.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti warned that protests could become "super-spreader events," leading to an explosion of secondary infections, reported The New York Times. Doctors cautioned that protesters should not be held in enclosed, tight police vans and jails, which have some of the highest risk areas for coronavirus transmission, reported KTVU Fox 2.
Human rights experts say that tear gas should be used on civilians as a "weapon of last resort, not an everyday occurrence," reported Insider.
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By Joni Sweet
If you get a call from a number you don't recognize, don't hit decline — it might be a contact tracer calling to let you know that someone you've been near has tested positive for the coronavirus.
Interviews With Contact Tracers<p>Contact tracing is a public health strategy that involves identifying everyone who may have been in contact with a person who has the coronavirus. Contact tracers collect information and provide guidance to help contain the transmission of disease.</p><p>It's been used during outbreaks of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), Ebola, measles, and now the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.</p><p>It starts when the local department of health gets a report of a confirmed case of the coronavirus in its community and gives that person a call. The contact tracer usually provides information on how to isolate and when to get treatment, then tries to figure out who else the person may have exposed.</p><p>"We ask who they've been in contact with in the 48 hours prior to symptom onset, or 2 days before the date of their positive test if they don't have symptoms," said <a href="https://case.edu/medicine/healthintegration/people/heidi-gullett" target="_blank">Dr. Heidi Gullett</a>, associate director of the Center for Community Health Integration at the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine and medical director of the Cuyahoga County Board of Health in Ohio.</p>
“You’ve Been Exposed”<p>After the case interview, contact tracers will get to work calling the folks who may have been exposed to the coronavirus by the person who tested positive.</p><p>"We give them recommendations about quarantining or isolating, getting tested, and what to do if they become sick. If they're not already sick, we still want them to self-quarantine so that they don't spread the disease to anyone else if they were to become sick," said Labus.</p><p>Generally, the contact tracer won't ask for additional contacts unless they happen to call someone who is sick or has a confirmed case of the virus. They will help ensure the contact has the resources they need to isolate themselves, if necessary. The contact tracer may continue to stay in touch with that person over the next 14 days.</p><p>"We follow the percentage of people that were contacts, then converted into being actual cases of the virus. It's an important marker to help us understand what kind of transmission happens in our community and how to control the virus," said Gullett.</p>
Why You Should Participate (and What Happens If You Don’t)<p>A <a href="https://www.thelancet.com/journals/laninf/article/PIIS1473-3099(20)30457-6/fulltext" target="_blank">Lancet study</a> from June 16, which looked at data from more than 40,000 people, found that COVID-19 transmission could be reduced by 64 percent through isolating those who have the coronavirus, quarantining their household, and contacting the people they may have exposed.</p><p>The combination strategy was significantly more effective than mass random testing or just isolating the sick person and members of their household.</p><p>However, contact tracing is only as effective as people's willingness to participate, and a small number of people who've contracted the coronavirus or were potentially exposed are reluctant to talk.</p><p>"Contact tracers have all been hung up on, cussed at, yelled at," said Gullet.</p><p>The hesitation to talk to contact tracers often stems from concerns over privacy — a serious issue in healthcare.</p>
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By James Shulmeister
Climate Explained is a collaboration between The Conversation, Stuff and the New Zealand Science Media Centre to answer your questions about climate change.
If you have a question you'd like an expert to answer, please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org
What was the climate and sea level like at times in Earth’s history when carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was at 400ppm?<p>The last time global carbon dioxide levels were consistently at or above 400 parts per million (ppm) was around <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/nature14145" target="_blank">four million years ago</a> during a geological period known as the <a href="http://www.geologypage.com/2014/05/pliocene-epoch.html" target="_blank">Pliocene Era</a> (between 5.3 million and 2.6 million years ago). The world was about 3℃ warmer and sea levels were higher than today.</p><p>We know how much carbon dioxide the atmosphere contained in the past by studying ice cores from Greenland and Antarctica. As compacted snow gradually changes to ice, it traps air in bubbles that contain <a href="https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/annals-of-glaciology/article/enclosure-of-air-during-metamorphosis-of-dry-firn-to-ice/09D9C60A8DA412D16645E6E6ABC1892F" target="_blank">samples of the atmosphere at the time</a>. We can sample ice cores to reconstruct past concentrations of carbon dioxide, but this record only takes us back about a million years.</p><p>Beyond a million years, we don't have any direct measurements of the composition of ancient atmospheres, but we can use several methods to estimate past levels of carbon dioxide. One method uses the relationship between plant pores, known as stomata, that regulate gas exchange in and out of the plant. The density of these stomata is <a href="https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/095968369200200109" target="_blank">related to atmospheric carbon dioxide</a>, and fossil plants are a good indicator of concentrations in the past.</p><p>Another technique is to examine sediment cores from the ocean floor. The sediments build up year after year as the bodies and shells of dead plankton and other organisms rain down on the seafloor. We can use isotopes (chemically identical atoms that differ only in atomic weight) of boron taken from the shells of the dead plankton to reconstruct changes in the acidity of seawater. From this we can work out the level of carbon dioxide in the ocean.</p><p>The data from four-million-year-old sediments suggest that <a href="https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1029/2010PA002055" target="_blank">carbon dioxide was at 400ppm back then</a>.</p>
Sea Levels and Changes in Antarctica<p>During colder periods in Earth's history, ice caps and glaciers grow and sea levels drop. In the recent geological past, during the most recent ice age about 20,000 years ago, sea levels were at least <a href="https://science.sciencemag.org/content/292/5517/679.abstract" target="_blank">120 meters lower</a> than they are today.</p><p><span></span>Sea-level changes are calculated from changes in isotopes of oxygen in the shells of marine organisms. For the Pliocene Era, <a href="https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1029/2004PA001071" target="_blank">research</a> shows the sea-level change between cooler and warmer periods was around 30-40 meters and sea level was higher than today. Also during the Pliocene, we know the West Antarctic Ice Sheet was <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/nature07867" target="_blank">significantly smaller</a> and global average temperatures were about 3℃ warmer than today. Summer temperatures in high northern latitudes were up to 14℃ warmer.</p><p>This may seem like a lot but modern observations show strong <a href="https://journals.ametsoc.org/jcli/article/23/14/3888/32547" target="_blank">polar amplification</a> of warming: a 1℃ increase at the equator may raise temperatures at the poles by 6-7℃. It is one of the reasons why Arctic sea ice is disappearing.</p>
Impacts in New Zealand and Australia<p>In the Australian region, there was no Great Barrier Reef, but there may have been <a href="https://link.springer.com/content/pdf/10.1007/BF02537376.pdf" target="_blank">smaller reefs along the northeast coast of Australia</a>. For New Zealand, the partial melting of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet is probably the most critical point.</p><p>One of the key features of New Zealand's current climate is that Antarctica is cut off from global circulation during the winter because of the big <a href="https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.3402/tellusa.v54i5.12161" target="_blank">temperature contrast</a> between Antarctica and the Southern Ocean. When it comes back into circulation in springtime, New Zealand gets strong storms. Stormier winters and significantly warmer summers were likely in the mid-Pliocene because of a weaker polar vortex and a warmer Antarctica.</p><p>It will take more than a few years or decades of carbon dioxide concentrations at 400ppm to trigger a significant shrinking of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. But recent studies show that <a href="http://nora.nerc.ac.uk/id/eprint/521027/" target="_blank">West Antarctica is already melting</a>.</p><p>Sea-level rise from a partial melting of West Antarctica could easily exceed a meter or more by 2100. In fact, if the whole of the West Antarctic melted it could <a href="http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.695.7239&rep=rep1&type=pdf" target="_blank">raise sea levels by about 3.5 meters</a>. Even smaller increases raise the risk of <a href="https://www.pce.parliament.nz/publications/preparing-new-zealand-for-rising-seas-certainty-and-uncertainty" target="_blank">flooding in low-lying cities</a> including Auckland, Christchurch and Wellington.</p>
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