Wild fire smoke: Cloth masks used for COVID-19 protection will not help

Cloth masks used to slow the spread of COVID-19, by blocking respiratory droplets, offer little protection against wildfire smoke, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Colorado continues to struggle with air quality as smoke from California wildfires mixes with elevated ozone pollution. Tuesday was the 38th straight day with an unhealthy amount of ozone in the air, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

The CDPHE on Tuesday issued an “Air Quality Health Advisory for Wildfire Smoke” for northern Colorado through 4 p.m. Wednesday, including the Denver metro, as hot and dry weather lingers and unhealthy air continues to drift into the state from wildfires. On Tuesday afternoon, the Denver area had “unhealthy air for sensitive groups” because of high readings of fine particulates and ozone.

While cloth facial masks offer some protection against the spread of COVID-19, they won’t catch or filter small, harmful particles in smoke that can be a health detriment. At the same time, exposure to the COVID-19 virus can further complicate health concerns about smoky and unhealthy air.

“Wildfire 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,” the CDC said on its website. “Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, preparing for wildfires might be a little different this year.”

N95 and KN95 masks, used for COVID-19 protection, can provide protection from wildfire smoke. The CDC, however, does not recommend the use of N95 masks in non-health care settings as they “should be reserved for health care workers.”

A good way to protect yourself from wildfire smoke is to reduce exposure by staying indoors, preferably in air-filtered spaces and settings if possible.

“Limit your outdoor exercise when it is smoky outside or choose lower-intensity activities to reduce your smoke exposure,” the CDC says.

People should also avoid activities that create air pollution, limit driving gas-powered vehicles, if possible, and hold off on moving the lawn with a gas mower. Inside, frying foods, sweeping and vacuuming should be avoided as they affect the inside air.

Those with COVID-19 and people recovering from the virus may be at increased risk of health effects from exposure to wildfire smoke because of compromised heart and lung function related to COVID-19.

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