Record-breaking wildfires have consumed many parts of the West Coast, and their effects will likely be felt for some time. Not to mention, the fires are burning against the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic, prompting many to question if their symptoms are COVID-19-related or an effect of too much smoke exposure. Care experts are here to share how you can best prepare and maintain your family’s health and safety through it all.
Q: The wildfire smoke in my neighborhood has quickly made being outdoors unsafe as the air quality worsens. I’ve noticed that my son has started coughing and I’m concerned about keeping my family safe. Is there anything I can do to protect them?
It’s smart that you’re being proactive; wildfire smoke has been spreading rapidly across the West Coast, and you’re certainly not alone in being worried about staying safe.
In theory, the best thing you can do to protect yourself is to seek an environment with cleaner air. But that’s easier said than done, especially in the midst of a pandemic. Making a physical move for an extended stay away from home might not be feasible, but you can take these steps to ensure your own health and safety:
- Try to stay indoors. Avoid going on walks or exercising outside when air quality is compromised, or switch to lower-intensity workouts to reduce your exposure to smoke.
- If you do have to go outdoors, protect yourself by wearing a mask. Important note: cloth masks, the type recommended for protection against COVID-19, do not protect against smoke. These masks block respiratory droplets and some of the larger particles found in wildfire smoke, but not the small, dangerous particles that can injure the lungs. An N95 mask is your best option. To ensure frontline health care workers get the supplies they need, it’s best to try and reuse your N95 mask if you have one, or if you must go outside, consider another face covering that protects against smaller particles such as a respirator. Smoke can linger in the air for days, so consider wearing protective clothing and eye protection as well.
- Ensure your home is well prepared. You can protect your own space by using a portable air cleaner in your home. To be most effective, keep doors and windows closed.
In regard to experiencing symptoms, know that you're not alone. The tandem crises of COVID-19 and widespread wildfires have posed a unique problem for many in 2020: Are my symptoms from the coronavirus? Or an effect of too much smoke exposure?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), both smoke and COVID-19 can cause symptoms such as dry cough, sore throat, and trouble breathing. But others — such as fever, chills, body aches, and diarrhea — would not appear as a result of smoke in the environment.
If you’ve recently tested positive for COVID-19, you’re at increased risk for health consequences from the smoke. Other vulnerable populations include kids under 18, adults over 65, pregnant women, immunocompromised people, and those with existing health conditions. If you or your loved ones fall into these categories, make sure to take extra precautions and seek medical attention if necessary.
We hope you and your family are staying safe and healthy during this time. To learn more about prevention— or to discuss your symptoms — use the Amazon Care app to connect with a clinician today.