Experts say protestors should be tested for COVID-19, especially if tear gas is involved | KNKX

Experts say protestors should be tested for COVID-19, especially if tear gas is involved

Jun 10, 2020

Health officials and care providers are urging people who have attended large protests to get tested for the coronavirus.

It’s still unclear whether the large-scale demonstrations in recent weeks will cause a new wave of COVID-19.

“We don’t know whether these protests will lead to a spike in cases,” said Matt Logalbo, medical director of Country Doctor Community Health Centers, located on Capitol Hill, near the epicenter of the Seattle demonstrations.

The incubation period for the virus can be up to two weeks and some people remain unsymptomatic. No surge in case numbers has shown up in state data yet.

Logalbo notes that many protestors are taking care to wear masks and stay as far apart as possible, trying to reduce the risk of contracting coronavirus. A big concern though is the use of tear gas and pepper spray by police. During protests, the coughing and sneezing it causes increase the likelihood of the virus spreading — both because of the droplets expelled but also because many people pull their masks off, rub their eyes or faces or get close to others while getting or receiving aid.

These are all reasons why thousands of health care professionals have signed an open letter opposing police use of tear gas or any respiratory irritants for crowd control during this pandemic. And King County’s public health officer Jeff Duchin sent a tweet June 4 stating, “Public Health — Seattle & King Co opposes the use of tear gas & other respiratory irritants based on the potential to increase COVID-19 spread.”

Logalbo agrees and says the longer-term effects it has on people’s lungs could make them more susceptible for an unknown period time.

“It might make someone even more prone to acquiring the virus, not just at protests, but elsewhere in their daily lives, if they have this lingering inflammation," Logalbo said. "We don't know this for a fact, but it's certainly very medically plausible.”  

Logalbo says his clinic has seen a couple of patients who live in the neighborhood and called in complaining of irritated lungs without attending the protests; even indoors, through closed windows.

He is urging anyone who calls the clinic to consider getting tested for COVID-19.

“We certainly have found that in the Seattle area, any of the barriers to getting tested have come down in the last couple of weeks,” Logalbo said. “So we’re encouraging anyone who has been protesting to consider getting a test and absolutely if they have even the most minimal symptoms.”  

These include coughing, shortness of breath, fever, chills, headaches or losing your sense of taste or smell.

The City of Seattle has two new drive-through, free testing sites, open Monday through Saturday.  A note on the sign-up page strongly urges anyone who has attended recent protests to get tested, even if they are not showing symptoms.