Air Quality Experts: Wildfire smoke can increase risk for coronavirus

18 June 2020

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USA – NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – A statewide health alert is in effect Thursday night because of smoke across the state. Health officials say that smoke makes everyone more vulnerable to the coronavirus. The symptoms of smoke exposure and COVID 19 are so similar and experts say so it’s important to take precautions to avoid both.

New Mexicans woke up to a hazy sky Thursday morning, “This is that time of year where we start being concerned about smoke coming in,” says Deputy Director of City of Albuquerque Environmental Department, Mark DiMenna.

Air quality experts say the ozone levels have gone up Thursday afternoon, which prompted a statewide health alert “So we got the ozone first this afternoon then we’re going to get a little bit of smoke this evening from the Bighorn Fire near Tucson and then more later tonight from the bush fire near Phoenix and that will linger into tomorrow morning,” says City of Albuquerque Meteorologist Jeff Stonesifer.

While wildfire season isn’t anything new, the smoke fuels the risk of respiratory conditions in everyone. “The smoke coming in can actually aggravate the lungs and the cells there and cause inflammation which makes people more susceptible as well to getting respiratory infections which probably includes COVID,” DiMenna says.

Right now, sensitive groups like children, adults over 65, pregnant women and people with chronic health conditions are the most at risk. “Those are the same people that would have more severe outcomes and problems if they were infected with COVID. If they’re already infected and they get exposed to smoke on top of that obviously that makes things even worse,” DiMenna says.

Deputy Director of the Albuquerque’s Environmental Department Mark DiMenna says respiratory symptoms are common to both wildfire smoke exposure and COVID-19. So if you have symptoms, he recommends getting tested for the virus just to be safe.”As testing opens up across the state at this point really anybody can get tested if they would like,” DiMenna says.

DiMenna says the best thing people can do is what they’ve been doing to avoid coronavirus. “More than ever, as much as we’ve been saying that lately, we want those people to stay indoors, stay home and take care of themselves,” DiMenna says.

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