SEATTLE, WA — Wildfire season is coming up fast, and with wildfires comes a higher risk of smoke and low air quality. While that smoke has always been a problem for some, it may be an even bigger issue this summer because smoke can exacerbate coronavirus symptoms.
That's one more reason to be extra prepared for wildfire season this summer, experts say. Public Health - Seattle & King County and the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency are asking everyone to think ahead, and know their options if and when a wildfire starts kicking up a large amount of smoke near their home.
They're offering a few safety tips, including:
- Outfit your home with filters. Filtering the air in your house can reduce the risk of the coronavirus and smoke at the same time.
- If you have an HVAC system, use filters with the highest filter rating possible, and set the HVAC to recirculate air during smoky weather.
- Alternatively, buy a portable indoor air cleaner. Make sure its appropriate for the size of the room you're placing it in.
- You can also create your own air filter, DIY-style. Puget Sound Clean Air Agency has instructions on its website.
- Know where to go. If the air quality is poor, stay indoors as much as possible. Many public spaces that normally would be open and offering indoor shelter may be closed this summer because of the pandemic, so have a backup plan or call ahead.
- If you have an existing medical condition, talk to your doctor. Anyone with heart disease, diabetes, asthma or chronic obstructive-pulmonary disease should talk with a healthcare provider about how they can reduce their health risks from wildfire smoke.
- Stay informed about changing air quality conditions. Air quality can fluctuate rapidly, so keep an eye on the current conditions in your area. You can check the air quality on the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency's website here.
- If you have older family and friends, help them plan ahead as well.
Who is most at risk
Wildfire smoke is unhealthy for everyone, but is especially problematic for children, pregnant women, stroke survivors, those with respiratory diseases, heart diseases, or diabetes, and anyone 65 and older.
The coronavirus counts as a respiratory disease, and will make the smoke more dangerous, as health officials writing for Public Health Insider explain:
COVID-19 can make it much harder to breathe. Poor air quality caused by wildfire smoke may make it even harder for people to fight COVID-19 since both have the potential to affect the lungs, and other overlapping parts of the immune system. Many people most susceptible to COVID-19 are also those most vulnerable to the impacts of wildfire smoke.
On masks and face coverings
Some may wonder if face masks or cloth coverings, which protect against the coronavirus, may serve a dual purpose and protect against wildfires too, but they will not. Public health is still asking everyone to wear masks when in public to slow the spread of the virus, and while those masks won't make it harder to breathe in the smoke, they won't make it easier either. The only masks that can protect against wildfire smoke are N95 respirators, which are already in short supply and should be reserved for healthcare workers and first responders treating coronavirus patients.