SEATTLE, WA — Seattle closed its public parks, beaches, boat launches, golf courses Friday as air quality swiftly deteriorated due to smoke from wildfires burning in Oregon and California. The closures will remain in place through at least Sunday, according to Mayor Jenny Durkan.
As a "super-massive" pall of smoke worked its way across Western Washington Friday, air quality levels dipped into the "very unhealthy" and "hazardous" ranges throughout the Seattle region.
Air quality this morning in now ranging from "Unhealthy" to "Hazardous" across the area. Smoke will likely become thicker tonight into Saturday morning. Take steps to protect your health as smoke can be dangerous for everyone. #WAwx pic.twitter.com/KSy76xGo5i
— NWS Seattle (@NWSSeattle) September 11, 2020
In a news conference Friday, Durkan and King County Executive Dow Constantine also announced a temporary "healthy air center" to provide a safe place for up to 80 unhoused people.
"Since the first days of the COVID emergency, we have worked to protect the health and safety of our residents, particularly those who are living every day without the security of a home," Constantine said. "With yet another threat to the health of our community looming, we are acting today to temporarily repurpose one of our COVID recovery centers to serve as an emergency shelter for people experiencing homelessness who need relief from the dangerous wildfire smoke."
The shelter opened Friday afternoon and will be staffed in partnership with the Salvation Army.
Durkan said she and other leaders had been in discussions throughout the week, weighing the COVID-19 risk of congregate settings with the immediate threat of unhealthy air.
"We know that indoor gathering — even with the proper precautions — increases a person's likelihood of catching or spreading the virus," Durkan said. "However, the threat of unhealthy air quality has become so great that we are taking additional actions as a City, including closing our parks and standing up an additional emergency shelter for people experiencing homelessness."
According to the latest estimates, approximately 3,000 people are living unsheltered in Seattle, with another 2,000 elsewhere in King County.
The added shelter site will remain open until at least Monday morning. Constantine said the facility, located at 1045 6th Avenue South, is large enough to allow for "substantial physical distancing" inside, and each person will have their own space separated by partitions. Officials said the building is already equipped with an air handling system that was designed for use as a COVID-19 care facility. Coronavirus tests will be available for each guest.
Two existing shelter facilities in Seattle, Fisher Pavilion and the Exhibition Hall, also have proper air filtration systems, officials said.
The City's closure of parks and other park amenities this weekend due to wildfire smoke also includes the Japanese Garden, Arboretum in Washington Park, and Kubota Garden. More info here: https://t.co/hS54dDz2Ey pic.twitter.com/IaEsN5JBzk
— Seattle Parks (@SeattleParks) September 11, 2020