Wildfire Smoke May Increase COVID-19 Risk, Causes Similar Symptoms

Wildfires in Oregon are an extra threat to those recovering from or suffering with COVID-19, and the smoke they produce can also cause similar symptoms.  

Over the last several days high winds have fanned the flames of several Oregon fires, causing hazardous air quality in parts of the Willamette Valley and unhealthy air quality in southern Oregon.  

According to an OPB report, Tanya Phillips, the program manager for Jackson County Public Health, expressed that public health officials are worried about the combination of the fire and the pandemic. 

Phillips explained that because the coronavirus impacts your heart and lungs, poor air quality will further bother what may already be compromised. She recommends that all individuals stay indoors, but especially people with or recovering from COVID-19 and those with conditions that may be worsened by smoke. This may include asthma, pregnancy, heart or lung conditions, and those who may be more sensitive to poor air quality like children and older adults.  

Even if one does not have the coronavirus, poor air quality can mimic symptoms associated with it. KLCC reports that Jason Davis, the spokesperson for Lane County Public health, said “Most commonly it’s the watery eyes, potentially difficulty breathing, an irritated throat and irritated nasal passageways. 

Davis went on to assure people that the symptoms may persist along with the air quality, but there is testing available if you believe you may be infected.  

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also warns that wildfire smoke can irritate your lungs, cause inflammation, affect your immune system, and make you more prone to lung infections, including SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. 

The CDC adds that cloth masks will not catch harmful particles in smoke.   

Along with these worries, a study in the American Journal of Public Health reported that a moderate wildfire smoke episode could potentially increase a COVID-19 outbreak by 10 percent, and there is concern that emergency shelters without social distancing will increase the spread of the coronavirus. 

By Hannah Ramsey