Smoke from wildfires burning in the state of California is lowering air quality to unhealthy levels in some parts of the state—and the substance could make you more prone to lung infections such as COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The CDC says wildfire smoke can irritate your lungs, cause inflammation, and have an adverse effect on your immune system, meaning you could be more vulnerable to the effects of the disease.
Several fires are burning around the Greater By Area, causing “unhealthy” air quality, particularly in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties, according to the Environmental Protection Agency’s AirNow map.
An “unhealthy” measurement means that some members of the general public may experience adverse health effects, while members of sensitive groups—for example, those with respiratory conditions—may experience more serious health effects.
The Bay Area Air Quality Management District issued a Spare the Air Alert on Tuesday that is in effect through Wednesday, banning the burning of wood, manufactured fire logs or any other solid fuel, both indoors and outdoors.
According to the statement, smoke from wildfires sparked by lightning over the past few days is expected to cause high levels of particulate pollution in the Bay Area over this period.
“Multiple wildfires inside and outside of the Bay Area are creating an unhealthy breathing environment,” Jack Broadbent, executive officer of the Air District, said in the statement. “With the added risk of COVID-19 on respiratory health, it’s crucial that we all do our part to reduce air pollution and take precautions to reduce exposure.”
The Air District recommends that if the smell of smoke is present or visible, residents should try and avoid exposure by staying inside, if possible, with windows and doors closed.
Outside of California, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has also issued wildfire smoke health advisories for portions of central, western and northern parts of the state that are in effect until 9 a.m. MDT on Wednesday.
“If smoke is thick or becomes thick in your neighborhood you may want to remain indoors. This is especially true for those with heart disease, respiratory illnesses, the very young, and the elderly,” the health department said in an advisory.
“Consider limiting outdoor activity when moderate to heavy smoke is present. Consider relocating temporarily if smoke is present indoors and is making you ill. If visibility is less than 5 miles in smoke in your neighborhood, smoke has reached levels that are unhealthy.”
According to the CDC, people with COVID-19—or those who are recovering from the disease—are at an increased risk from wildfire smoke due to related lung and/or heart problems.
A study published last month in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, for example, found that wildfire smoke has the potential to make the symptoms of viral respiratory infections, such as COVID-19, even worse.
“Anyone with pre-existing heart and lung disease and diabetes is especially vulnerable and should consider purchasing air cleaners, and ensuring that they have adequate supplies of medication at home,” Jiayun Angela Yao, one of the authors of the study from the University of British Columbia, said in a statement.
It is important to note that masks commonly used to slow the spread of COVID-19 provide very little protection against wildfire smoke.