By: PENNY MACIAS
In California, wildfire season has started again, but this time with a pandemic in place. Since August 15, around 650 wildfires have burned more than 1.25 million acres, leaving at least seven people dead, according to Cal Fire. Parts of the Bay Area have been enduring some of the worst air quality in the world. With both the pandemic and the wildfires, even the healthiest of people may be affected.
According to Dr. John Watson, an expert on air quality measurements and the impact of air pollutants at the Desert Research Institute in Reno, Nevada, the prevalence of smoke only makes residents more vulnerable to the highly contagious disease. “Anecdotally, what you’re seeing is people’s systems are becoming more sensitive to (the coronavirus),” Watson said. “They’re going to be more prone to have more damage. Just the smoke alone induces a lot of asthma, bronchitis, COPDs (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), so it gives a lot of acute effects that take place right away. That’s just going to weaken the whole system. You’re going to be more susceptible to any other disease just because your system is already overtaxed.” Bandanas and cloth masks, used to stop the spread of the coronavirus, won’t work as well against the smoke. The N95 masks are more recommended, but they’re in short supply and mostly reserved for medical workers.
The people most at risk are children, seniors, and active adults. Poor air quality can irritate the eyes, nose, and throat, cause shortness of breath, aggravate asthma and other respiratory conditions, and affect the heart and cardiovascular system. Breathing polluted air for long periods of time can cause more serious problems. The air quality can be so bad during wildfire season that it poses a high risk to anyone exposed to it. According to The Environmental Defense Fund, Air pollution is now the biggest environmental risk for early death, responsible for as many as 5 million premature deaths each year from heart attacks, strokes, diabetes and respiratory diseases. The Air Resources Board advises people in the affected areas to stay inside with their windows and doors shut, run air conditioners in the recirculate setting and keep track of conditions.
One of the causes to most of these wildfires is a massive dry lightning storm last week concentrated in the San Francisco Bay Area. For Californians, wildfires are nothing new. They have grown accustomed to the yearly smoke, destruction, and evacuation. However, this year’s summer brought the most intense wildfires, and is even among recent record-breaking fire seasons. And while this is all happening, the Covid-19 pandemic is still in place which makes it harder to control the wildfires. Knowing that there are now two unhealthy occurrences in the air, hopefully it will urge everyone to stay inside and wear a mask.