----------------------------------------------Dear Mayor Ginther, City Attorney Klein, Council President Hardin, and Chief Quinlan,The Columbus Medical Association represents all physicians who live and practice in Central Ohio. Our physicians are working hard to help our communities and our patients maneuver these troubling times, the double insult of the coronavirus pandemic and the outrage at the public health crisis that is racism in America.
As physicians, we are gravely concerned about the use of chemical irritants and tear gas as a means of crowd control during the recent protests in Columbus. The use of such irritants not only carries adverse health risks but also exacerbates the spread of the coronavirus.
The use of chemical irritants was banned by the Geneva Protocol in 1993 yet continues to be used as a means of crowd control throughout the country. Multiple adverse health effects have been linked to the use of tear gas including skin and eye irritation and even vision loss. Tear gas and other respiratory irritants can cause long-term harm, making people more vulnerable to pneumonia, the flu and other respiratory illnesses. In those with asthma or chronic lung problems, this is even more dangerous.
The adverse health effects of tear gas and respiratory irritants are reason enough for physicians to speak out against its use in crowd control. However, the use during the coronavirus pandemic can greatly exacerbate the spread of the virus. COVID-19 is a highly contagious virus that is primarily spread by respiratory droplets. Many people who have active COVID-19 infection have no symptoms but are still able to spread the virus. Public health officials have advised us that wearing facemasks and staying at least 6 feet apart is a reasonably effective means of reducing COVID-19 spread. However, these methods are only effective if masks remain properly positioned on the face, and people are not coughing, are not touching their faces, and are not coming into contact with secretions of other people.
The use of tear gas is an accelerant for virus spread as it forces people to cough violently, rub their eyes, and remove their masks. In the panic that results from tear gas spray, people run close to each other and will naturally assist each other while they run from the spray and try to mitigate the painful effects of the chemical. Think of the images of people flushing one another's eyes and faces with water and milk without wearing gloves or masks. In an effort to help each other, all the precautions that people are taking are abandoned, and the virus can spread rapidly.
We must protect the people protesting, the police on duty at the protests, the families of protesters and police, and then, of course, the wider community. As physicians practicing during the pandemic, when we meet a patient who is coughing severely, we must put on a gown, gloves, N95 mask, and a face shield before we can get within a few feet of the patient. Even this protection is likely inadequate if the person with COVID-19 is coughing forcefully. However, no one at these protests is wearing such protective equipment. In short, tear gas has become a deadly force, though we may not see these deaths for 2-3 weeks.
We call on you, our Columbus city officials, to stop the use of tear gas and other irritants immediately as a matter of public health. If we can be of any help to you in this effort, please do not hesitate to ask. We are happy to serve as medical consultants in educational efforts or in any capacity necessary. We want to work together to improve the health and safety of all people in Central Ohio.
Beth Liston, MD President, Columbus Medical Association and Chair of Board of Directors
I like the statement, however, it is incomplete. There needs to be an alternative presented for crowd control, or endorse no police or policing at all. Crowd control is a very difficult and delicate process. If one thinks there is no danger with large crowds or that any crowd monitoring is necessary, my point is mute.
Copyright 2019 Columbus Medical Association. All rights reserved.