As wildfires rage across the entire West Coast, a giant wave of smoke has blown across Western Washington, creating worsening air quality that will likely linger for days. The air quality across Washington has the potential to reach extremely unhealthy levels, and the Washington State Department of Health wants people to be prepared. It’s not just the smoke, either: With COVID-19 as an ongoing factor, people need to know how to stay safe from smoke and fire while preventing the spread of disease.
Breathing in wildfire smoke can cause symptoms that are relatively minor, such as eye, nose, and throat irritation, and also more dangerous symptoms like wheezing, coughing, and shortness of breath. The best way to protect yourself from smoky air is to stay inside and keep your indoor air clean by improving filtration and creating a clean air room in your home. To reduce the intake of smoke into your home:
- Close windows and doors when it’s smoky outside, and open windows to let in fresh air during times when there’s better air quality outside.
- Set air conditioners to re-circulate.
- Avoid burning candles/incense, smoking, broiling/frying foods, and vacuuming, as these can add to indoor pollution.
- Use a portable air cleaner with a HEPA filter – Air Cleaner Information for Consumers – California Air Resources Board.
- Build your own box fan filter – WA Department of Ecology’s video on how to make your own clean air fan.
This wildfire season is especially challenging during the COVID-19 pandemic. If you’re considering leaving the area to escape smoke or fire, consider the COVID-19 restrictions in the county you are traveling to, and the people you are visiting. This is especially important if they are at high risk for severe COVID-19. For those taking in people trying to escape fire or smoky conditions: please keep your circles small, wear masks indoors, and continue washing your hands often.
These steps alone are not enough to protect you from COVID-19: Wearing cloth face coverings to protect yourself and others is still critical. “Cloth face coverings generally do not provide much protection from wildfire smoke, but they are still crucial in a pandemic,” said Secretary of Health John Wiesman. “We want people to continue to wear cloth face coverings to slow spread of COVID-19.”
To read more about the wildfires in the state, visit the Washington Smoke Information blog for regular updates. For more information on protecting yourself during wildfire smoke events, visit the department’s Smoke From Fires home page.