COVID-19 and Wildfire Smoke

This wildfire season is going to be unique as we continue to respond to COVID-19. This year we are especially concerned about health impacts as breathing in wildfire smoke may worsen symptoms for those with COVID-19 and many of those vulnerable to wildfire smoke are also vulnerable to COVID-19.

How we protect ourselves from wildfire smoke is going to be different with COVID-19. It will be more difficult to go to public spaces where the air is cleaner and cooler than our homes may be. N95 respirators should be reserved for healthcare and frontline workers because N95 respirator supplies are limited. Cloth face coverings do not provide much protection from wildfire smoke. Take steps to prepare your home for wildfire smoke by improving air filtration and creating a clean air space.

For additional information visit the WA DOH Smoke From Fires Webpage

Health Recommendations

Exposure to wildfire smoke can cause health problems, which can be serious. Some symptoms include:

  • burning eyes
  • runny nose
  • sore throat
  • headache
  • coughing
  • wheezing
  • shortness of breath
  • worsening of lung, heart, and circulatory conditions

The possibility for high levels of smoke to worsen symptoms or trigger health effects for the people with heart disease or lung disease is especially a concern because this can be life-threatening. Sensitive groups include:
  • people with heart, lung, or circulatory diseases
  • people with respiratory infections
  • people with diabetes
  • infants and children
  • pregnant women
  • people over 65
  • stroke survivors

How to protect you and your family's health from outdoor smoke

  • Stay updated on current and forecasted air quality. 
  • Avoid outdoor physical activity.
  • Stay indoors and take steps to keep your indoor air as clean as possible.
    • Keep windows and doors closed.
    • Improve the filtration indoors. Three options are described below.
    • Set air conditioners to re-circulate.
  • Don’t add to indoor pollution.
    • Avoid burning candles or incense, smoking, broiling or frying foods, and vacuuming (unless your vacuum has a HEPA filter).
  • Consider leaving the area if the air quality remains poor and it is not possible to keep the air in your home clean.

Recommendations for improving filtration of indoor air

Recommendations on the use of a face mask for wildfire smoke

  • NIOSH respirators rated to filter out fine particles, such as an N95 respirator, can provide some protection if worn properly, but they will not work for everyone. 
  • For more information: Wildfire Smoke and Face Masks (PDF) / Spanish

Recommendations for recess, P.E., and athletic events and practices at schools during smoky conditions.

For more information visit the WA Dept. of Health Smoke From Fires Webpage / Spanish (information in many languages)

Air Quality Hazard Guidance: WAQA and AQI

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency uses its own air quality reporting system called the Air Quality Index (AQI). The AQI map is shown at the top of this page. Washington state uses the Washington Air Quality Advisory (WAQA) reporting system.

Both use color-coded categories to show when air quality is good, moderate, or unhealthy. The difference is that the state's WAQA is based on lower levels of fine particle pollution than the federal AQI. Studies show that levels of particles in the air that we previously thought were safe can cause illness and death.  This FAQ includes more details about the WAQA.

You can view the WAQA map and refer to the image below to check air quality conditions to protect your health earlier than what the AQI indicates.

Additional Health Resources

Washington Labor and Industries

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

U.S. Centers for Disease Control

Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Units