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How wildfires can potentially make COVID-19 worse

Posted at 7:46 PM, Aug 26, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-27 10:22:15-04

TWIN FALLS, Idaho — As the country continues to battle the ongoing pandemic, wildfires nationwide are burning millions of acres of land. This past weekend, an unhealthy air quality alert was issued for parts of southern Idaho.

Luke Montrose, an Assistant Professor for the Department of Community and Environmental Health at Boise State, says the combination of the pandemic and wildfires can put Idahoans at a higher risk for COVID-19.

"If the smoke gets into their lungs and suppresses their immune system, we believe that it's likely that if they were to get the coronavirus, it would be worse than it would have been if they were never exposed to smoke," Montrose said.

Montrose says when you breathe in the smoke from wildfires, small particles called PM 2.5 get into the bottom of your lungs, where oxygen passes into the blood. The particles suppress the immune system, making COVID-19 symptoms even worse.

"I think that the general public may be impacted by smoke exposure on their risk of developing severe COVID-19 symptoms," Montrose said.

The smoke coming from the wildfires in California can make day-to-day activities more dangerous for Idahoans. Montrose says activities like going out for a morning run can be a risk so it's important to pay attention to alerts from the Department of Environmental Quality.

"You really need to be conscious of what the Department of Environmental Quality's alerts say and know which group you fall into. Are you a sensitive population? Are you a vulnerable population? Do you have an underlying condition?," Montrose said.

Montrose says the best thing for people to do during this time is to reduce their time outside.

"But some of us have to be outside. So on those days, if you could reduce your exposure by only staying outside for certain amounts of time or maybe trying to take a break and get into an area that does have clean air, all of these things are beneficial," Montrose said.