How to Stay Safe from Double Whammy of Smoke and COVID-19
Aug 20, 2020
Gary Zavoral
Photo of San Francisco with heavy smoke

With wildfire smoke settling in every Northern California community, and with COVID-19 still a major health concern, Dr. William Isenberg, Sutter Health’s Chief Quality & Safety Officer, has two words of advice on the best way to avoid the associated health risks: Stay inside.

“With COVID-19, we have sheltered in place and limited our public interactions, and with the smoke in the air, sheltering in place is even more important,” Dr. Isenberg says. “Stay home, close the windows and doors, try not to let the outside air in. Those are the optimal recommendations to keep everyone safe during this unprecedented combination of a deadly pandemic and wildfire smoke, not to mention the heat of summer.”

Especially at risk of lung issues from the smoke are children, the elderly, those with underlying respiratory and heart issues, and pregnant women. “Inhalation of this wildfire smoke can cause premature labor,” he said. But he reiterated that prolonged exposure to all this smoke can cause queasiness and heart attacks to even those who are not high risk.

Dr. Isenberg offers the following precautions during this time of poor air:

  • Stay indoors as much as possible, limiting opening of doors and windows.
  • Use air conditioning in your homes and vehicles, if you have it. Malls, if open, are great places for people without their own air conditioning at home.
  • Do not run fans that move smoky outdoor air inside, such as whole-house fans. If your home is equipped with an automated venting system, make sure you turn it off.
  • Keep wellhydrated. Dr. Isenberg recommends drinking a minimum of 8 ounces of water eight to 10 times daily.  
  • Use your maintenance puffers/inhalers if you have asthma, emphysema or other respiratory diseases, and carry your rescue puffer/inhaler with you if you leave your home.
  • When out in public, make sure you wear your cloth or surgical mask. While these won’t protect you from the small smoke particles, they do help in controlling the coronavirus.

Air Now also has information about how to protect yourself from wildfire smoke, along with a chart that pinpoints the Air Quality Index of your town.

For further information, listen to this podcast from Capital Public Radio, which features an interview with Vanessa Walker, D.O., a Sutter Health pulmonologist.  

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