As COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continue to rise in several states across the country, some Americans face an additional challenge: smoke from forest fires raging across the west coast.
Over the past few weeks, forest fires have devastated parts of California, Oregon and Washington, setting more than 5 million acres on fire, forcing thousands to evacuate their homes and causing poor air quality as far as the East Coast, according to the Red Cross. Public health officials have advised people to stay indoors, even if it has not stopped smoke from slipping into some homes and causing breathing problems.
Many states have implemented mask requirements to prevent the spread of COVID-19. But can the same face masks also help protect people from running smoke? It depends on the type of mask.
“We are currently struggling with two pandemics – one is a viral pandemic and the other is forest fires on the west coast,” said Dr. Panagis Galiatsatos, an assistant professor in the Department of Pulmonary Medicine and Critical Nursing Medicine at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, tells Yahoo Life. “We will certainly limit people’s exposure to both.”
With COVID-19, masks help with what is called “source control”, which slows down the spread of the virus. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s mask guidelines: “Masks are recommended as a simple barrier to prevent respiratory droplets from traveling into the air and onto other people when the person wearing the mask coughs or sneezes.”
However, in the CDC’s guidelines on public health strategies for dealing with fire smoke during the pandemic, the Agency does not recommend relying on clothing masks with filters inserted or sewn into them to protect against exposure to fire smoke “because the level of protection they provide against [wildfire] particulate air pollutants are highly dependent on the fit of the masks and the properties of the filter. ”
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, particles from smoke are typically very small – “particles in wood smoke” have a size range of 0.4 to 0.7 micrometers in diameter. In comparison, a human hair is approx. 60 micrometers [microns] in diameter, ”says the agency. The EPA says that “such small particles can be inhaled into the deepest depressions of the lung and are thought to represent a greater health concern than larger particles.”
While the coronavirus itself has a diameter of approx. 0.12 microns, explains Dr. Jonathan Parsons, a pulmonologist at Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, according to the Mayo Clinic to Yahoo Life, that the breath drops are expelled when someone coughs, sneezes or speaks it “Contains the viral particles are typically 5 microns [in diameter] – it is not only the virus itself that is expelled.
“The particles that cause lung and respiratory problems with smoke are too small to be filtered by a cloth mask or surgical mask,” says Parsons. “But on the other hand, they is effective in preventing the spread of COVID because the droplets are much larger compared to the particles that cause problems in smoke. ”
For people who need to be outside during forest fires, the EPA recommends wearing a fitted N95 mask or P100 respirator (those typically worn for spray painting for cars or in construction), which can help reduce exposure to particles in a fire smoke. .
N95 masks – which also reduce the spread of coronavirus and are often used in healthcare – are “designed to filter 95 percent of the particles that are 0.3 microns or larger,” Parsons explains.
If you plan to purchase a respirator to reduce exposure to wilderness fumes, the EPA recommends that you obtain a “particle mask” that has been tested and approved by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). Respiratory protection must have the word “NIOSH” as well as “N95” or “P100”. The agency also recommends choosing a respirator that has two straps that go around the head (not curved around the ears or one with a single strap) for a more secure fit.
According to the CDC, “apart from N95 respirators, masks used to slow the spread of COVID-19 offer little protection against the harmful air pollutants in fire fumes.”
But Galiatsatos says that if there is smoke in the air from fires, the best thing you can do is stay indoors. It is also “the best way not to be exposed to the virus,” he adds.
“If you’re in an area where there’s fire in fire, there’s really no safe way to be outside for extended periods of time,” says Parsons, who explains that the risk is the concentration of smoke particles in the air combined with the length of Exposure to these particles. “Concentrations are so high right now that even short exposure” outside is not safe, he says.
To latest coronavirus news and updates, follow at https://news.yahoo.com/coronavirus. According to experts, people over the age of 60 and those with compromised immune systems remain the most vulnerable. If you have any questions, please refer to CDCs and Who is resource guides.
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