Chemicals used by police amid protests may spread COVID-19: CDC director


The head of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday that police crowd-control chemicals cause coughing that could spread the coronavirus — and he will raise the matter with the White House task force.

CDC Director Robert Redfield told the House Appropriations Committee he fears George Floyd protests across the nation will become a “seeding event” for COVID-19 and noted high pre-protest transmission rates in some cities where demonstrations are taking place.

“Definitely coughing can spread respiratory viruses, including COVID-19,” Redfield said.

He agreed with Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) that crowd-control chemicals can make people cough.

“That’s been my experience,” he said.

“I think you raise an important point,” Redfield told Pocan. “I’ll pass on this comment to the next task force meeting.”

Outside the White House and across the country, police have used capsaicin-based compounds including pepper spray and pepper balls among the tightly packed crowds.

Smoke canisters, similar-appearing tear gas and flash-bang grenades also have been common, resulting in a range of respiratory symptoms.

Protesters themselves have lit fireworks and set fire to buildings and garbage bins full of plastics, emitting foul fumes.

“We have advocated strongly the ability to have face coverings and masks available to protesters so that they can at least have those coverings, but you do raise an important question,” Redfield told Pocan regarding police chemicals.

The CDC director told lawmakers he’s concerned about how the protests will impact the pandemic, which has sickened nearly 2 million Americans and killed almost 110,000.

Redfield said protesters should go get tested for the virus.

“The first thing that I would like to see is those individuals who have partaken in these peaceful protests or been out protesting, particularly if they are in metropolitan areas that really haven’t controlled the outbreak to the extent we want — Minneapolis happens to be one that is still having significant transmission, DC is another one — we really want those individuals to highly consider being evaluated and get tested,” Redfield said.

“I do think there is a potential, unfortunately, for this to be a seeding event.”


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