skip to main content
caption: Smoke from wildfires east of the Cascades billowed into Seattle beginning on Monday, shown here on Tuesday, September 8, 2020.
Enlarge Icon
Smoke from wildfires east of the Cascades billowed into Seattle beginning on Monday, shown here on Tuesday, September 8, 2020.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Wildfire smoke exacerbates Covid-related respiratory concerns

Several massive wildfires burning in eastern Washington have led to extremely unhealthy air quality in the Puget Sound region. Right now, the air quality from Bellingham down to Seattle is considered unhealthy for everyone.

To find out how to protect yourself, we're joined now by Dr. Joel Kaufman. He's an epidemiologist and professor of public health at the University of Washington.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

Just how dangerous is the air quality in the Puget Sound region right now?

The levels now are at this place where we consider it to be unhealthy for everyone to be outside. But we get especially worried about folks who have pre-existing lung problems or heart problems, chronic lung diseases like emphysema, bad asthma, children with chronic diseases of all sorts, as well as folks who are at high risk of heart attacks and strokes. When levels get up this high from wildfire smoke, we have reasons for concern.

What would you say the top three things are that people can do right away to protect themselves and limit their exposure?

For most people who have the chance to do it, the best thing to do is to stay indoors with windows closed. If you have an air purifier around run it now, because that will take the small particles out of the air.

The other thing that that we may advise is a reduction in lots of exertion outside, particularly among people who have those chronic health conditions, because that will increase the amount they'll inhale of the pollution, of the fine particles, and the smoke and the gases that travel along with them. The lower dose you get of it, the less likely you'll have an adverse health effect.

Dr. Kaufman, as you know, we are living through a pandemic at this time. We know this virus can be very bad for people with respiratory conditions. So what kinds of concerns do you have right now about this smoke that's sitting here in combination with Covid-19?

We worry about whether people who have a Covid-19 infection will have a worse course because of the pollution. We worry that exposure to pollution might actually make it more likely that somebody can get an infection, or have a worse course of infection. Although, we don't have definitive evidence about that. We can't really know yet. We have lots of reasons for concern about those things.

One of the concerns I have has to do with safe places to go to get away from smoke, like community centers, and senior centers, or libraries that might have air conditioning that we had advised folks to go to in previous years, are no longer good places to congregate, because we're trying to avoid crowds for Covid-19.