The air quality in Seattle is one of the worst in the world. Experts say that wearing a certain type of mask that you may already be wearing to stop COVID can help.
SEATTLE – As dozens of forest fires continue to burn across the west coast, cities and towns around the interior northwest are flooded with smoke.
The air quality in Seattle is among the worst in the world. According to AirNow.gov, Seattle had an air quality index (AQI) of 241, considered “very unhealthy” per capita. 1
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a smoke smoke can irritate your lungs, cause inflammation, affect your immune system and make you more prone to lung infections, including SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
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Although a mask can help stop the spread of COVID-19, they do not protect you all from fire smoke.
Wearing facial tissues and surgical masks used to slow the spread of COVID-19 do not filter out fire smoke particles, said Dr. Anh Nguyen, senior medical director of the emergency clinics in Providence.
The N95 respirator filters out smoke and reduces the spread of COVID-19, but the masks are still in high demand and should be kept away from doctors and nurses.
“To complicate the situation, anti-pollution masks often have valves that help release air and make breathing easier,” according to Plume Labs scientist Dr. Boris Quennehen. “Unfortunately, the valves make the mask almost useless to prevent the transmission of viruses – because it is designed to let air out along with whatever else may be in that air. “
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Plume Labs recommends using an FFP2 + mask without valves to meet both needs.
Dr. Nguyen added that a good alternative to remedy both problems is to wear a clothes mask over the N95 mask with the valve.
N95 respirators are not an option for everyone as they are not recommended for children, not as effective with facial hair, and people with pre-existing conditions should first consult a healthcare provider, said Lisa Woodward with the Spokane Regional Clean Air Agency.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, N95 and other NIOSH-approved respirators are also in short supply due to COVID-19 and must be reserved for those required to carry them to work.
The CDC recommends staying indoors and using a portable air purifier to protect you from burning smoke.
If you have a forced air system in your home, you may need to talk to a qualified professional heating, ventilation and air conditioning system about different filters, HEPA or MERV-13 or higher to reduce indoor smoke.
The American Lung Association says protecting lung health should be part of an emergency plan for wildfires and also has these recommendations.
- Stay indoors: People living close to the fire-affected areas should remain indoors unless local officials are asked to evacuate them and avoid breathing smoke, ash and other contaminants in the area.
- Do not train outside: If you live near or in the surrounding area, do not exercise outdoors, especially if you smell smoke or notice eye or throat irritation.
- Do not rely on a dust mask: Ordinary dust masks designed to filter out large particles and facial coatings for cloth do not help. They still allow the more dangerous smaller particles to pass through. Special, more expensive dust masks with an N-95 or N-100 filter filter out the harmful fine particles, but may not fit properly and are difficult for people with lung disease to use. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, N95 masks may not be available due to lack and because they are needed by frontline healthcare professionals. If you have lung disease, consult your doctor before using an N95 mask. These masks can make it harder for someone to breathe and should only be used if you are going out.
- Take precautions for children: Extra precautions should be taken for children who are more susceptible to smoking. Their lungs are still developing and they inhale more air (and consequently more pollution) for their size than adults. N-95 m = masks should not be used on children as they are unlikely to fit properly.
- Roll up your car windows: When driving your car in smoky areas, keep your windows and vents closed and drive in the “recirculating” setting, even when using air conditioning.
- Protect the air in your home: Stay inside as much as possible, with doors, windows and sound absorbers closed and preferably with clean air circulating through air conditioners and air purifiers. Use air conditioning in the recirculation mode to avoid drawing outdoor air into the room. Air purifiers with HEPA filters can provide extra protection against soot and smoke. Place damp towels under the doors and other places where the outside air can seep in.
- Prepare to evacuate if instructed. Listen very carefully to your local or government officials and act when you are ordered to protect yourself and your family. In advance, prepare medication, medical equipment, emergency contact information, and a list of prescriptions you can take with you.