Get stories and expert advice on all things related to college and parenting.
As Colleges Welcome Students Back, Will Your Student Be Safe?Suzanne Shaffer
Devastating wildfires continue to burn up and down the entire western coast of the U.S. Air quality has been extremely poor for more than a month in California, especially in the San Francisco Bay Area, and recently Portland, Oregon had the world’s worst air quality as fires continued to spread throughout the state.
In fact, except for the fires last summer in Australia (it was winter here in the northern hemisphere), this is the worst smoke event many global health experts have ever seen.
For everyone who lives in these parts of the country, and other regions that are prone to seasonal wildfires like CollegiateParent's home state of Colorado, the poor air quality is a serious health and safety concern.
Even short-term exposure to wildfire smoke can cause burning eyes, headaches and lung irritation and right now the exposure time is lengthening beyond days to weeks and even months. People with asthma or any chronic lung or heart condition are especially vulnerable. Children and older adults are also in higher risk groups.
On top of this, we are in the midst of a pandemic and COVID-19 is a respiratory illness. It is too soon to draw scientific conclusions, but experts expect that smoke could make symptoms worse for people who are currently sick with COVID-19, and by affecting the lungs could make healthy individuals more susceptible to bacterial and viral infections — including the coronavirus.
We're all wearing masks frequently outside because of the pandemic. However, casual face coverings will offer some but not complete protection from inhaled smoke particulates because the materials the masks are made of are permeable and they don't form a seal on your face.
An N95, P95 or K95 respirator with changeable filters can help protect your lungs. These are available at hardware/home repair stores and pharmacies.
Breathing smoke is bad, but exercise is good. So how do you balance this?
Experts recommend that, especially when smoke is lingering for quite a while, people who want to exercise outdoors should “listen to their bodies.” If you find yourself coughing, getting a headache or feeling at all sick, stop and head back home.
National Center for Environmental Health, Protect Yourself from Wildfire Smoke
Oregon Public Broadcasting, How to stay safe in a smoky pandemic
Environmental Protection Agency, Patient Exposure and the Air Quality Index
American Lung Association, 10 Tips to Protect Yourself from Unhealthy Air
Natural Resources Defense Council, How to Stay Safe from Wildfire Smoke
BC Centre for Disease Control, Wildfire Smoke and Outdoor Exercise