As the world is still battling the COVID-19 pandemic, California is also seeing many wildfires occurring at once. These two incidents have a lot of overlap, which means you’ll need to know how to protect yourself from both.
Here are all the important facts that you need to know.
Why Consider Both COVID-19 and Wildfires?
As wildfires break out, communities will need to find shelter and protect themselves. The COVID-19 pandemic makes this harder, as more restrictions need to be made to keep everyone safe.
The other main concern is that wildfire smoke affects the lungs, causing inflammation and raising susceptibility to the virus. In fact, there has been scientific study that suggests that air pollutant exposure will make COVID-19 symptoms worse, and create a worse outcome for recovery.
Because of this, you’ll need to keep COVID-19 in mind as you create plans for wildfires in your area. You’ll need to think about anyone in your family who is vulnerable, and what you’ll need to do to limit your exposure to the virus if you need to evacuate.
Who is Most Vulnerable?
At this time, there are several groups of people who are vulnerable to both COVID-19 and wildfire smoke.
- Children younger than 18.
- Those aged 65 or older.
- Pregnant women.
- Those with chronic health issues, such as asthma, diabetes, or heart or lung disease.
- Those who work outdoors.
- Those with limited access to healthcare, such as those who are homeless.
- Those who are immunocompromised.
- Those who are recovering from COVID-19, as they will be suffering from compromised heart and lung function.
If you or anyone in your family meet any of this criteria, you will need to take special care if a wildfire breaks nearby.
Symptoms to Look Out For
COVID-19 and wildfire smoke present similar symptoms, something that makes sense as they both affect the lungs. This will make it more difficult to understand if you’re suffering from one or the other if you start showing symptoms of either.
If you find that you’re dealing with symptoms like fever or chills, muscle or body aches, or diarrhea, then you will need to seek help from a medical professional. These are symptoms of COVID-19, so you need to be tested for the illness as soon as possible, and take precautions not to spread it to others.
How to Reduce Health Impact of Wildfire Smoke and COVID-19
If you’re in an area at risk of wildfire, there are plenty of steps you can take that will keep you safe.
Here are some of the things you need to be doing:
Seek clean air spaces: The best way to avoid the effects of wildfire smoke is to find clean air spaces. You’ll be able to find a list of such areas near you on the Air Quality Index and the Air Now sites. If wildfire breaks out in your area, make a plan to evacuate to these spaces to keep you and your family safe.
Understand the impact of COVID-19 on your plans: This year is unlike any other when it comes to planning for wildfires. As the country is still working to limit the spread of the disease, you’ll see that some normal plans can’t be enacted. For example, you may not be able to evacuate to a library or community center, as you would normally. Take this into account when you’re planning for evacuation.
Stay indoors: If there are wildfires nearby, and you’re able to remain in your home, stay indoors as much as you can. If you stay inside, you’ll limit your exposure to wildfire smoke and the related health problems that come with it. If you tend to exercise outdoors, choose exercises you can instead do indoors, or choose lower intensity workouts that limit smoke exposure.
Create cleaner air in your home: The cleaner your air is at home, the more you will be able to protect yourself from wildfire smoke. You can do this in several ways. For example, you can use portable air cleaners in your home. You can also update your HVAC system with better filtration. Avoid activities such as frying food, sweeping, or vacuuming as these create more indoor air pollution.
Don’t rely on masks for smoke protection: Face masks are essential for limiting the spread of COVID-19, but they’re not able to reduce smoke inhalation during a wildfire. The only exception is N95 face masks, but right now these are in high demand in medical settings.
Preparing for Wildfires
This year, you’ll need to prepare for wildfires as you would any other year. However, you will need to take some extra steps to keep everyone safe.
Buy online where you can: If looking for wildfire preparation supplies, buy online if you can. This helps reduce the spread of COVID-19.
Stock up on medication: Try to put together 7 to 10 days worth of any medication your family needs. Keep these in a waterproof container, and be ready to take them with you if you need to evacuate.
Create a disaster plan: You’ll need to have a plan in place, should you need to evacuate. Put this plan together now, and ensure everyone in your family knows what needs to be done in the event of an emergency.
Check local guidelines: You should have local guidelines in place for evacuating, and protecting others. This will include things like social distancing guidelines, recommendations for safe shelters, and so on. Check these guidelines now, so you know what to do in case you need to evacuate.
With all these plans in place, you can keep yourself and your family safe in the event of a wildfire. The presence of COVID-19 makes things more difficult, but if you plan ahead and are extra careful, then you should be able to protect yourself from both the virus and wildfire smoke.