The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality has issued an air quality advisory for Jackson County through Wednesday. With the current weather patterns and wildfire activity in California, Jackson County will see intermittent levels of smoke that are moderate and unhealthy for sensitive groups. Ashland may experience higher levels of smoke than other parts of the county. There is also an air advisory in place for Klamath County where smoke levels have reached the unhealthy category. People need to be observant of the air quality during this wildfire season; smoke levels can rise and fall rapidly depending on weather factors, including wind direction.
The overlap of the COVID-19 pandemic with wildfire season in the United States complicates public health response to wildfire smoke.
Wildfire smoke is a complex mixture of air pollutants that are harmful to human health. Exposure to air pollutants in wildfire smoke can irritate the lungs, cause inflammation, alter immune function, and increase susceptibility to respiratory infections. Recent scientific publications suggest that air pollutant exposure worsens COVID-19 symptoms and outcomes.
Populations known to be vulnerable to wildfire smoke exposures include:
- Children less than 18 years;
- Adults age 65 years or older;
- Pregnant women;
- People with chronic health conditions such as heart or lung disease, including asthma and diabetes;
- Outdoor workers;
- People of low socioeconomic status, including those who are homeless and with limited access to medical care.
- People who have had COVID-19 and are recovering from the virus
During a wildfire smoke event, Jackson County Public Health Officials advise people to take the following precautions:
- Understand that your planning may be different this year because of the need to protect yourself and others from COVID-19.
- Be aware of smoke concentrations in your area
- Avoid smoke by staying indoors, and by closing windows and doors
- Avoid physical activity in smoky conditions
- Use air conditioning and air filter or cleaners, creating a cleaner air space inside a home.
- People exposed to smoky conditions and who suffer from asthma or other respiratory problems should follow their breathing management plans or contact their healthcare providers.
- It is currently not recommended to use N95 or P100 respirators to prevent smoke exposure, because these particulate respirators are in short supply and are needed by healthcare workers responding to COVID-19. The best way to reduce your exposure to wildfire smoke is to stay indoors.
Check DEQ’s Air Quality Index (AQI) to see real-time air monitoring data from monitors placed around Oregon https://oraqi.deq.state.or.us/home/map. DEQ also has a mobile app for the AQI, search for OregonAir in your app store. Keep in mind that monitoring locations are limited, pollution levels may be higher in some areas, and wildfire smoke levels can rise and fall rapidly.
Here are the six levels of the air quality index and what each level means for your health: