Health Advisory: Unhealthy Air Quality from Wildfire Smoke

Published Sept. 8, 2020.

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Wildfire smoke is affecting air quality and is expected to continue for several days. Wildfire smoke, woodstoves and other pollution sources affect Whatcom County air quality. Health risks increase if poor air quality is sustained over time. Recent air quality information is available through Washington Department of Ecology’s Air Monitoring Network.

Health risks

Everyone may experience adverse health effects during periods of unhealthy air quality. Sensitive groups may experience more serious effects. Health effects include worsening heart or lung disease, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, coughing and eye and sinus irritation. Those most at risk include:

  • People with heart disease or lung disease, like asthma or COPD.
  • Adults over age 65.
  • Pregnant women.
  • Children and infants.
  • Diabetics.
  • Smokers.
  • People living with obesity.
  • People with respiratory infections, like COVID-19, cold or flu.

DOH recommends canceling youth outdoor events when air quality reaches unhealthy levels.

Wildfire smoke and COVID-19

Smoke from wildfires can aggravate respiratory conditions like COVID-19. Serious complications, like pneumonia, may develop and require medical care or hospitalization. Older people and people with chronic illnesses are more likely to get very sick from COVID-19 and this risk intensifies during wildfire events.

Patient recommendations

  • Avoid physical exertion and stay indoors as much as possible.
  • Keep doors and windows closed.
  • If you have an air conditioner, turn it on and set it to re-circulate.
  • Use a HEPA air cleaner. Avoid air cleaners with ionizing or electrostatic features.
  • Limit time outdoors if you have asthma or lung disease because of the increased risk of COVID-19 and exposure to wildfire smoke.
  • Do not use cloth masks as a particulate respirator. They do not protect against the fine particulates found in wildfire smoke. Continue to use cloth masks to reduce the spread of COVID-19. N95 masks offer protection from wildfire smoke, but they should be reserved for essential workers because of shortages.

Visit Cowlitz County’s Alert Center for current alert information.