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Aug 12

[ARCHIVED] Wildfire Impact on Air Quality in the Context of COVID-19

The original item was published from August 12, 2020 5:22 PM to August 23, 2020 3:03 PM

Wildfire Impact on Air Quality in the Context of COVID-19
What you should know about wildfire smoke and how to keep yourself safe during the pandemic

CONTACT: Nicole Valentine, Public Affairs Coordinator - Public Health

Several wildfires are burning across western Colorado, and they are beginning to impact Summit County air quality. 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 cause COVID-19. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, preparing for wildfires is a little different this year. Know how wildfire smoke can affect you and your loved ones during the COVID-19 pandemic and what you can do to protect yourselves.

Prepare for Wildfires
Prepare for the wildfire smoke season as you would in any other summer.
Give yourself more time than usual to prepare for wildfire events. Home delivery is the safest choice for buying disaster supplies; however, that may not be an option for everyone. If in-person shopping is your only option, take steps to protect your and others’ health when running essential errands.
Talk with a health care provider. Plan how you will protect yourself against wildfire smoke.
Stock up on medicines routinely taken. Store a 7 to 10-day supply of prescription medicines in a waterproof, childproof container to take with you if you evacuate.
As part of your planning for a potential evacuation, consider developing a family disaster plan.

Take Actions to Protect Yourself from Smoke, Especially During the Pandemic

Masks will not protect you from wildfire smoke. Masks that are used to slow the spread of COVID-19 offer little protection against wildfire smoke. They do not catch small, harmful particles in smoke that can harm your health. Although N95 respirators do provide protection from wildfire smoke, they might be in short supply as frontline healthcare workers use them during the pandemic.
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.
Limit your outdoor exercise when it is smoky outside or choose lower-intensity activities to reduce your smoke exposure.

Create a Cleaner Airspace at Home to Help Protect Yourself and Your Family

Use a portable air cleaner in one or more rooms. Portable air cleaners work best when run continuously with doors and windows closed.
If you use a do-it-yourself box fan filtration unit, never leave it unattended.
During periods of extreme heat, pay attention to temperature forecasts and know how to stay safe in the heat.
Whenever you can, use air conditioners, heat pumps, fans, and window shades to keep your cleaner air space comfortably cool on hot days.
If you have a forced air system in your home, you may need to speak with a qualified heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) professional about different filters (HEPA or MERV-13 or higher) and settings (“Recirculate” and “On” rather than “Auto”) you can use to reduce indoor smoke.
Avoid activities that create more indoor and outdoor air pollution, such as frying foods, sweeping, vacuuming, and using gas-powered appliances.

Know the Difference Between Symptoms of Smoke Exposure and COVID-19

Some symptoms, like dry cough, sore throat, and difficulty breathing can be caused by both wildfire smoke exposure and COVID-19.
Learn about symptoms of COVID-19. Symptoms like fever or chills, muscle or body aches, and diarrhea are not related to smoke exposure. If you have any of these symptoms, the CDC COVID-19 Self-Checker can help you determine whether you need further assessment or testing for COVID-19. If you have questions after using the CDC COVID-19 Self-Checker,  contact a healthcare provider.
If you have severe symptoms, like difficulty breathing or chest pain, immediately call 911 or the nearest emergency facility.

Know whether you are at risk from wildfire smoke during the COVID-19 pandemic

Some people are more at risk of harmful health effects from wildfire smoke than others. Those most at risk include:
People who currently have or who are recovering from COVID-19 may be at increased risk of health effects from exposure to wildfire smoke due to compromised heart and/or lung function related to COVID-19
Children less than 18 years old
Adults aged 65 years or older
Pregnant women
People with chronic health conditions such as heart or lung disease, asthma, and diabetes
Outdoor workers
People who have lower socioeconomic status, including individuals experiencing homelessness or those who have limited access to medical care
People who are immunocompromised or taking drugs that suppress the immune system

Know what to do if you must evacuate

Pay attention to local guidance about updated plans for evacuations and shelters, including potential shelters for your pets.
Whether you decide to evacuate or are asked to evacuate by state or local authorities, evacuate safely.
When you check on neighbors and friends before evacuating, be sure to follow social distancing recommendations (staying at least 6 feet from others) and other CDC recommendations to protect yourself and others.
If you need to go to a disaster shelter, follow CDC recommendations for staying safe and healthy in a public disaster shelter during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Stay informed. Know where to find information about air quality and COVID-19 in your area.

Use the Summit County Government smoke page to check out local air quality.
Check resources from Summit County Government, including our Case Data dashboard for more information on COVID-19 cases and deaths in a given area.
For further information about wildfire smoke and your health, visit,