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Bad air quality worsens COVID symptoms, increases risk for virus

Local News

Wildfires around the state have blanketed Kern County with haze, and the bad air quality is affecting those recovering from coronavirus.

“Air pollution can increase the risk for COVID-19, and we suspect that it might also cause problems with people trying to recover from COVID-19,” said Dr. John Balmes, a pulmonary physician and UC Berkeley professor.

In the era of coronavirus, people are already asked to stay at home and wear a mask when they leave. Now, the danger of the outdoors is twofold.

“The cloth and paper masks we put on to prevent the spread of COVID are not effective in preventing you from inhaling particulate matter,” said Heather Heinks of the San Joaquin Valley Air District. “Particles are microscopic. It will pass right through that mask, and unless it’s fitted tightly or an N95 or greater, you really should just stay indoors.”

With 23 major wildfires burning all across California, Kern is the valley caught in the middle. This year, the American Lung Association listed Kern County as the most polluted area in the whole country.

“Long-term exposure to this kind of stuff would be the same as smoking. It will cause scarring in your lungs, causes other diseases including COPD and emphysema,” said Dr. Hemmal Kothary, the chief medical officer at Dignity Health.

For those who currently have the virus, bad air quality can make their symptoms worse. For those who’ve recovered, doctors say their lungs are still fragile.

“Our primary advice is the see and smell rule,” Heinks said. “We have monitors in place because they detect the microscopic stuff that we can’t see, but if you’re at the point where you see and smell it, you don’t need a monitor to affirm that you should just stay inside.”

If you want more information about the surrounding fires, you can check out Valley Air’s resource here.

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