COVID-19 and Wildfire Smoke
There is concern about health impacts of wildfire smoke overlapping with COVID-19 because both impact the respiratory and immune system. Exposure to wildfire smoke may make you more susceptible to COVID-19, and worsen COVID-19 symptoms such as coughing, sore throat, and difficulty breathing. Get your COVID-19 vaccines as soon as possible so that you will be protected when wildfire smoke arrives.
For additional information visit the WA DOH Smoke From Fires Webpage.
Exposure to wildfire smoke can cause health problems that range from minor to severe. Some symptoms include:
- Eye, nose, and throat irritation (burning eyes and runny nose)
- Headache and coughing
- Wheezing and shortness of breath
- Worsening of existing conditions, especially heart and lung diseases
- Watch for symptoms like asthma attacks, chest pain, or irregular heartbeat
- Mental health concerns and psychological stress
Inhaling smoke is not good for anyone. There are groups of people with increased risk for severe health impacts, such as hospitalization or death, including:
- People with health conditions
- Lung diseases, such as asthma and COPD
- Heart diseases
- Respiratory illnesses
- People 18 and younger or older than 65
- Pregnant people
- Outdoor workers
- People of color
- Tribal and indigenous people
- People with low income
How to protect you and your family's health from outdoor smoke
- Stay up to date on current and forecast air quality.
- Check wildfire and smoke locations on the other tabs of this blog
- Washington Air Quality Monitoring Network
- Washington Smoke Forecast
- Limit duration and intensity of outdoor physical activity .
- Stay indoors with cleaner indoor air:
- Close windows and doors unless it is too hot to maintain safe temperatures.
- Filter indoor air through an HVAC system, HEPA portable air cleaner, or DIY box fan filter. See below.
- Buy necessary materials early. Supplies will sell quickly once the smoke hits.
- EPA's Indoor Air Filtration Factsheet (PDF)
- Don’t add to indoor pollution.
- Avoid burning candles or incense, smoking, spraying aerosols, diffusing essential oils, broiling or frying foods, and vacuuming (unless your vacuum has a HEPA filter).
- Set air conditioners to re-circulate.
- If you must be outside for a limited duration, consider wearing a properly fitted NIOSH-approved particulate respirator, such as an N95 mask. See below.
- If unable to maintain cleaner air at home, go elsewhere for cleaner air such as a friend’s place, public space, or unimpacted area.
- It can be challenging to keep cool inside while keeping windows closed to keep smoke out. Pay attention to heat, as heat-related illness can occur quickly and be life threatening.
- Use portable fans and close curtains or window shades during the day.
- Stay hydrated. Avoid sugary or alcoholic drinks since these can be dehydrating.
- Use your stove and oven less.
- Cool off by taking a cool shower or applying wet rags on the back of your neck.
- Track air quality and open windows when the air is cleaner.
- Open windows when it is cooler outside than inside, and, if possible, take steps to filter indoor air
Recommendations for improving filtration of indoor air
For your home, consider one of three options:
- If you have an HVAC system, set it to recirculate and close the fresh air intake while there is bad air quality. Increase the filtration to a MERV 13 rated filter, or the highest rated filter your system will handle. Also, select a filter with the deepest folds in the filter material your system can accommodate. Consult your HVAC manual or speak with an HVAC professional before making improvements and change the filter when dirty or when indicated in your HVAC manual.
- Use a HEPA portable air cleaner. Make sure to select one that is rated for the size of the room where you plan to use it and choose a model that has a true HEPA filter and that is CARB certified, to ensure that it produces little or no ozone. Consider the noise rating, as some can be quite loud. Choosing a portable air cleaner with a clean air delivery rate (CADR) rated for a larger size room and running it at a lower setting will reduce the noise.
- Air Cleaner Information for Consumers - California Air Resources Board
- List of CARB-Certified Air Cleaning Devices
- Follow box fan manufacturer's instructions.
- Keep away from a window or wall so that the front and back are not blocked. Do not operate in a window.
- See this post for more info or watch these videos:
Recommendations on the use of a face mask for wildfire smoke
Recommendations on the use of a face mask for wildfire smoke
- Respirators are not your best option to reduce exposure—it is better to stay indoors and filter indoor air to keep it clean. If you cannot leave the smoky area, find other ways to reduce your exposure. or you must be outside, certain types of respirators can provide some protection. N95 or other NIOSH-approved respirators can filter out fine particles in smoke. It's important to take necessary steps to wear it correctly to achieve a proper fit and seal to provide protection. If worn improperly, it may not provide as much protection.
- For more information:
- COVID-19 Update: The supply and availability of N95 and other NIOSH-approved respirators has improved.
- N95 respirators with exhalation valves can protect you from wildfire smoke, but they may not prevent the spread of COVID-19.
- KN95 masks or masks from other counties respirators may not provide the same protection as NIOSH approved respirators because they are not regulated in the United States. If using a KN95 mask, look for ones that meet requirements similar to NIOSH approved respirators.
- Cloth face coverings, surgical masks, and filter inserts generally do not provide much protection from breathing in wildfire smoke.
Air Quality Hazard GuidanceThe Air Quality Index (AQI) reports the level of air quality and health concerns across six color-coded categories. The AQI map is shown at the top of this page.
Additional Health Resources
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
U.S. Centers for Disease Control
For workers: Washington Labor and Industries
For schools and child care