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.


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.

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.

Washington State Department of Health

Exposure to wildfire smoke can cause health problems. Some symptoms include:

  • burning eyes
  • sore throat
  • headache
  • coughing
  • wheezing
  • shortness of breath
  • worsening of heart and lung 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 and lung disease
  • people with respiratory infections
  • people with diabetes
  • infants and children
  • pregnant women
  • people over 65

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

How can I tell if smoke is affecting the air quality in my community?

Recommendations on the use of face masks during a wildfire event.

Recommendations for schools and buildings with mechanical ventilation.

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

DIY Indoor Air Purifier

Follow these easy steps from the Department of Ecology to make a do-it-yourself air cleaner for your home.

Mobile Phone Apps

Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Units

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

U.S. Centers for Disease Control

The 5-3-1 Visibility Method

If you don't have an air monitor in your area use this visibility guide to help you decide how the outdoor air quality might impact your health. Learn more about the 5-3-1 visibility method.

Thank you to the New Mexico Department of Health for the use of their infographics.