Thursday, July 2, 2020

Wildfire Smoke During COVID-19

Breathing in wildfire smoke by itself can cause anywhere from minor symptoms, such as eye, nose, and throat irritation, to more dangerous symptoms like wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath, and worsening existing chronic conditions. With the COVID-19 pandemic, there may be more cause for concern this season.

What are the health impacts of COVID-19 overlapping with wildfire smoke?

Both wildfire smoke and COVID-19 impact our respiratory and immune systems. If you already have COVID-19, breathing in wildfire smoke may make your symptoms worse. If you don’t have COVID-19, it may make you more likely to get it. People most vulnerable to wildfire smoke, like those over 65 or with pre-existing conditions, are also those most at risk for COVID-19.

How will this season be different?

When you have poor air quality in your home this year, it might not be safe to seek cleaner and cooler indoor air at public spaces, such as libraries or malls. Check in advance to see if these places are open and be prepared for lower capacity, to physically distance, and wear a cloth face covering. If you are considering leaving the area to get relief from smoke, consider the COVID-19 restrictions in the county you are traveling to and the people you are visiting. This is especially important if they are more sensitive to COVID-19.

While still in short supply, N95 respirators should continue to be reserved for those required to wear them for their job. It is important to wear your cloth face covering to slow the spread of COVID-19, but they won’t provide much protection from breathing in wildfire smoke.

With additional limitations this season, it will be best to stay at home and keep your indoor air clean. Because of impacts to the supply chain, it may take longer to receive supplies from retailers, so start preparing your home now.

Keeping wildfire smoke out and indoor air clean in your home

Take steps to improve filtration of indoor air and create a clean air room. Filtrating indoor air will reduce fine particles (PM 2.5) from wildfire smoke and provide some protection from COVID-19, but this alone is not enough to protect you from COVID-19.

When the air quality is poor, you will need to take additional steps to keep indoor air clean.

  • Close your windows and doors when it is smoky outside. Ventilation is good for helping prevent COVID-19, so when air quality is good, open them to get fresh air to reduce smoke levels and viral load. 
  • Don’t add to indoor air pollution by avoiding burning candles or incense, smoking inside, or vacuuming (unless your vacuum has a HEPA filter).

As we learn more about the impacts of COVID-19 and wildfire smoke, information will become available here and on the Washington State Department of Health’s Smoke from Fires webpage.  

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