Wildfire smoke, ash may increase health risk

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Kenneth McCann
  • 452 AMW Public Affairs

COVID-19 is a global pandemic contributing to thousands of deaths and great economic damage. If that is not enough, numerous wildfires are ravaging the west coast of the United States.

California is one of the states that has especially been hit hard, not only by the virus, but also large wildfires. The smoke and ash from these fires increase health risks for many of the vulnerable population, such as minors, senior citizens, pregnant women, outdoor workers, those who are homeless, and those with chronic or underlying health conditions.

“My husband and I are expecting our first born and we live by a wildfire that is producing lots of smoke,” said Janine McCann, a southern California resident. “The smoke has been constant, and I hope it doesn’t affect the health of my family.”

Wildfire smoke can irritate your lungs, cause inflammation, affect your immune system, and make you more prone to lung infections, including SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, according the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.

The website also states that the best way to protect against the potentially harmful effects of wildfire smoke is to reduce your exposure to wildfire smoke, for example, by seeking cleaner air shelters and cleaner air spaces. The CDC also recommends you curtail your outdoor exercise when it is smoky outside or choose lower-intensity activities to reduce your smoke exposure.

“While in any area impacted by Unhealthy or Very Unhealthy air quality, limit your exposure by remaining indoors, with windows and doors closed, or seeking alternate shelter,” said Marshall Prude, chief, Bioenvironmental Engineering and Public Health Office, March Air Reserve Base, California.  “If you must be outside, consider limiting the amount of time spent outdoors, by alternating between indoor and outdoor settings, every couple of hours.”

Additionally, it is important to know which mask to use for protection. Cloth masks and N95 masks are two options.

Cloth masks offer little protection against wildfire smoke but are used to slow the spread of COVID-19 by blocking respiratory droplets, according to the CDC website.  However, the N95 respirators that do provide protection from wildfire smoke, may be in short supply as most frontline healthcare workers are using them during the pandemic.

For more information regarding wildfire safety during this COVID-19 pandemic and the health effects of wildfire smoke and reducing exposure to it, as well as how to protect yourself from harmful smoke and ash, and what to know before a wildfire evacuation, visit https://www.cdc.gov/disasters/covid-19/wildfire_smoke_covid-19.html.