Why Mike Pence's red eye at the VP debate has the internet buzzing

After the chaotic night that was the first presidential debate on Sept. 29, 2020, many Americans looked to the vice presidential debate as an opportunity to perhaps witness a more civilized discourse. The night unfolded much more smoothly than its predecessor, with both Democratic candidate Kamala Harris, Joe Biden's vice presidential pick, and Vice President Mike Pence answering questions in a (mostly) respectful manner. Although both candidates threw a bit of shade, dodged questions, and occasionally ran over the allotted time with their responses, the questions and answers took on an expected path and tone when compared to the presidential candidates' outbursts and below-the-belt attacks

However, while the debate was mostly uneventful, one detail stuck out to viewers watching at home and had the internet buzzing about a possible red flag. The issue was connected to one of Mike Pence's eyes. Here's why social media — which includes countless folks with zero medical credentials — is speculating about the vice president's wellbeing.

Some viewers thinks Mike Pence's red eye is a red flag

One of Vice President Mike Pence's eyes appeared unusually red during the live, televised debate on Oct. 7, 2020. Of course, the internet noticed and was quick to dissect any and all possible reasons for the hue. 

"Does Pence have pink eye? Covid symptom alert," one Twitter user said. "It's VERY red," another viewer tweeted. "Pink eye is a symptom of #COVID19. Could also be a subconjunctival hemorrhage — a broken blood vessel that can occur after a strong cough or sneeze." Researchers have found that pink eye can be a symptom of COVID-19, but please note: Pence tested negative for the coronavirus and was declared symptom-free prior to the debate, as reported by NPR

Other social media critics cracked jokes at Pence's expense. "Did Kamala's words b**ch slap Mike Pence so hard it broke a blood vessel in his eye," one user quipped. "I am not sure Mike Pence's left eye is going to survive this debate," political satirist Jeremy Newberger tweeted. It did, but not without worrying some viewers and causing a stir online.

Experts weighed in on the correlation between pink eye and COVID-19

With Twitter abuzz about Mike Pence's red eye and whether or not he was showing symptoms of the coronavirus, it's helpful to turn to the experts. Dr. Alexandra Williamson, an optometrist, weighed in on the current discussion around pink eye or conjunctivitis as a symptom of the virus in a conversation with the Cleveland Clinic. Dr. Williamson pointed out that it's common to have a "pink eye-type appearance" in cases where the patient has a respiratory viral infection.

"Anatomically, the eye is connected to the nasal passages through the nasolacrimal duct, which is where our tears drain into the sinuses," she said. "And that connection makes it possible for viruses to cause problems in both places." However, Dr. Williamson told the Cleveland Clinic that, since the novel coronavirus manifests differently in different people, more research is necessary to give a conclusive report.

Meanwhile, Dr. Daniel Volland, a Seattle-based optometrist, per BuzzFeed, jumped on Twitter to give his take on Pence's eye. "Eye doctor here! Temporal Subconjunctival Hemorrhage OS is my diagnosis; it's a broken blood vessel, not infectious. #pinkeyepence" Fun fact: OS in optometrist lingo stands for "oculus sinister," according to WebMD, a Latin term which refers to the left eye. The right eye, called OD, stands for "oculus dextrus." (Hey, everyday's a school day.)

But, while we've got optometrists sharing their opinions online, President Donald Trump also used the wonderful world of Twitter to comment on Pence's performance at the 2020 vice presidential debate.

Donald Trump claimed Mike Pence 'WON BIG' but Twitter can't get past his bloody eye

It will come as no big surprise that President Donald Trump was ACTIVE on Twitter during Mike Pence's debate against Sen. Kamala Harris on Oct. 7, 2020. Trump tweeted several clips from the debate via Fox News and also posted a tweet calling Harris "TOP COP" using caps lock (of course).

Later that evening, Trump tweeted: "Mike Pence WON BIG!" While the president was optimistic, Twitter wouldn't let him forget about Pence's eye. Someone tweeted: "#pinkeyepence is trending. I believe the dude lost the debate just by showing up." Meanwhile, someone else tweeted: "I'll just leave this here..." with a link to pink eye as a possible symptom of COVID-19.

The larger issue, as BuzzFeed pointed out, is that Trump, Pence, and other White House staff appear to be ignoring the CDC's recommended safety precautions, which were designed to minimize the spread of COVID-19. The outlet noted that, on Sept. 25, 2020, Pence attended a campaign rally in Virginia. Then there was the White House event honoring Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett on Sept. 26, 2020. Plus, on Sept. 27, 2020, Pence attended the Gold Star families reception. So, with all of these crowded events, it's no wonder the internet is curious to find out if Pence might eventually test positive for COVID-19. His red eye definitely isn't helping to quiet this speculation.