By Bennett Gaylord
Wildfires that burn near and in Mendocino County produce a thick layer of smoke in the sky which is normally a problem on its own, this year though, wildfire smoke effects may be more deadly than ever. With smoke in the air, the effects of COVID-19 could be exacerbated and people could become more susceptible to getting the disease.
Ashley Toxqui, Public Information Officer and Communications Coordinator for Mendocino County Public Health gave a list of symptoms that are caused by breathing in wildfire smoke from the Center of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): “Health issues related to breathing in wildfire smoke include: Coughing, trouble breathing normally, stinging eyes, a scratchy throat, runny nose, irritated sinuses, wheezing and shortness of breath, chest pain, headaches, an asthma attack, tiredness, (and) fast heartbeat.” Ashley also noted, “Depending on the AQI (Air Quality Index), wildfire smoke may affect anyone, especially those with medical conditions.”
Dr. Andy Coren, Mendocino County Public Health Officer, discussed the symptoms of breathing in wildfire smoke and its relation to COVID-19: “Since COVID-19 and smoke inhalation have overlapping symptoms, adding both hazards could cause worse symptoms.” Dr. Coren explained that the symptoms of smoke inhalation can increase the spread of COVID-19: ¨Smoke will often make people cough more, there is a higher risk of spreading COVID-19. And since most COVID-19 infections are asymptomatic, this is another reason to have everyone wear a mask to control the germs.¨
With all the wildfire smoke in the air, it can be hard to identify whether or not your symptoms are COVID-19 related or related to the smoke. The CDC gives a small list of COVID-19 symptoms that do not overlap with symptoms caused by inhalation of wildfire smoke: “Fever or chills, muscle or body aches, and diarrhea are not related to smoke exposure.” Though the list is small, it can be used as a good judge to determine whether symptoms are from smoke in the air or COVID-19
Because of confusion between symptoms of COVID-19 and inhalation of wildfire smoke, the CDC has created a COVID-19 Self Checker that can help people determine whether or not they need further assessment or testing for COVID-19.
Not only does the smoke make people more susceptible to getting COVID-19, but those who have gotten or just recovered from it are also at a higher risk as well. The CDC states, “People who currently have or who are recovering from COVID-19 may be at increased risk of health effects from exposure to wildfire smoke due to compromised heart and/or lung function related to COVID-19.”During these times, it is important to know what type of mask to wear. Before fire season, Mendocino county residents would often wear cloth masks to protect themselves and to help slow the spread of COVID-19. With fires raging and filling the air with smoke, the CDC warns cloth masks cannot help keep out the toxins put into the air by the ash and smoke. The CDC recommends wearing an N95 mask which helps filter out both large and small toxins from wildfire smoke in the air
As Mendocino County tumbles headfirst into their fire season, it is more important than ever that proper masks are worn to protect against both the smoke and COVID-19 and that symptom can be identified as either smoke-induced or as a sign of the virus.