Thursday, September 10, 2020

Wildfire Smoke & COVID-19: A Bad Combination for Health

The active wildfires in our state present many dangers, including the impact wildfire smoke has on our health. The smoke produced by wildfires can also be dangerous to you and your family, even when you don’t live near the wildfire.   

Breathing in wildfire smoke can cause symptoms that are relatively minor, such as eye, nose, and throat irritation, and also more dangerous symptoms like as wheezing, coughing, and shortness of breath. We are especially concerned this year with COVID-19 because both impact our respiratory and immune systems and some of the symptoms are the same, like coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath. If you have COVID-19, breathing in smoke may make your symptoms worse. Smoke can make you more susceptible to respiratory infections, like COVID-19. Some people most vulnerable to wildfire smoke, like those over 65 or with pre-existing conditions, are also those most at risk for serious impacts from COVID-19.

There were already limited ways to protect ourselves from wildfire smoke, and COVID-19 makes it even more challenging.

Here are steps you can take now to protect your health: 

  • Stay informed about current and forecasted air quality here on the blog and your local clean air agency’s website.
  • Reduce outdoor physical activity
  • Stay indoors when it’s smoky and keep indoor air clean
    • Close your windows and doors to reduce intake of smoke. However, ventilation is good for helping prevent COVID-19, so when air quality is good, open them to get fresh air and reduce potential viral load.
    • Improve filtration of indoor air in your home and create a clean air room where you spend most of your time. Making your own box fan filter can be a less expensive option to filter air and improve indoor air quality in a single room.  Filtering indoor air is an effective way to reduce fine particles from wildfire smoke. It can also provide some protection from COVID-19, but this alone is not enough to protect you from COVID-19.
    • Avoid burning candles or incense, smoking inside, frying or broiling, or vacuuming (unless your vacuum has a HEPA filter).
  • Wear your cloth face covering to slow the spread of COVID-19. While cloth face coverings may help a small amount with smoke, they won’t filter out the fine particles or hazardous gasses.
    • N95 respirators, if fitted and worn properly, can reduce exposure to wildfire smoke, but as the supply remains limited, these need to be reserved for workers that are required to wear them for their job.

For more information visit the WA DOH Smoke from Fires webpage.


  1. This site is great. Thanks! I am putting on a (socially distant) 5k in Bellevue on Sunday. Should I cancel it now or is there a slight chance for better air? Thanks!

  2. I do no have a filtration system, a way to get materials nor is my house able to keep out smoke (big gaps between the doors and windows and the walls) how do i keep safe? We live in mason country. On the hood canal.

    1. Can you have someone drop off an air purifier at your house? And a N95 mask.

    2. Hi Anonymous,

      If you are unable to keep the air clean throughout your home, designate a single room as a “cleaner air room” where you can keep the air cleaner and then try and spend most of your time in that room. Here’s a good resource:

      Other things you can do: reduce physical activity (when you exercise, you inhale air at a faster rate) and don’t add to more indoor air pollution (avoid using candles, incense, sprays, fireplaces, or gas stoves; don’t broil or fry food or smoke cigarettes indoors; and avoid vacuuming unless your vacuum has a HEPA filter).

  3. When will the smoke move out of the Vancouver Area?

    1. Not seeing any good clearing through early next week, sorry :(

  4. Try stuffing towels, sheets or other fabric in the gaps between the doors, windows and walls to help keep the smoke out. If you have a room in the house that is less smoky than the other rooms, spend as much time in that room as possible and keep it shut off from the other parts of the house by quickly closing the door when you need to leave the room or re-enter it. If that room is not your bedroom, drag your mattress in there to sleep. This should be better by Monday, hang in there.

  5. Thanks so much for all the detailed helpful information. You all are truly Eco-Warriors! Now that I know what to do for myself and my family, is there anything the average citizen can do to support you all? (Knowing we are all "above average." :-) )



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