‘Stay inside’: Officials warn of health impacts from smoky air

Wildfires

The region is experiencing the worst air quality in the world due to nearby wildfires

CLACKAMAS COUNTY, Ore. (KOIN) — Health officials are urging people to stay inside as smoke continues to create hazardous air in Oregon. People living in some parts of the state, like Marion County, have been breathing the toxic air for almost a full week as wildfires continue to rage.

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality extended an air quality advisory Monday for all regions of Oregon and Southwest Washington. DEQ expects the air quality advisory to last at least through Thursday.

“Right now our region is experiencing the worst air quality in the world and it’s absolutely having an impact on people’s health,” Clackamas County Public Health Officer Sarah Present said.

Monday morning, Multnomah County officials tweeted “NO ONE should be outside,” asking employers to make sure their workers have N95 masks, breaks, and plenty of water if it’s absolutely necessary to work outside.

“When the air quality is this poor, being inside is definitely better than being outside, and it can cut particulate matter levels in half,” said Dr. Jennifer Vines, Lead Health Officer for the Metro. “But that still puts us in the unhealthy range, even at half of what we are, so that’s how bad it is.”

Vines said there has been a rise in emergency room visits due to respiratory symptoms and asthma in Multnomah County. Roughly one in 10 people visiting emergency rooms or urgent care clinics went there because of respiratory symptoms, according to Multnomah County Public Health.

TriMet is asking riders to only use public transportation for essential trips until air quality improves. Garbage pickup and other services are being delayed due to the hazardous conditions. It’s so bad, health officials even say not to exercise indoors for the time being.

The air is dangerous for everyone, but especially vulnerable populations like the elderly, pregnant women and children. Present said the smoke particles are small enough to get past the body’s first line of defense (nasal hairs) and deep into the lungs.

The cloth face coverings people have been wearing to protect against COVID-19 may not keep particulate matter out, Present said during a press conference Sunday. Well-fitted, N95 masks are a better defense if for some reason you have to be outside for an extended period of time.

“The bottom line is please stay inside,” Present said. “Check on your friends, your family and your neighbors who may be struggling.”

Tips from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

  • Keep windows and doors closed.
  • Run an air conditioner if you have one, but keep the fresh-air intake closed and the filter clean to prevent outdoor smoke from getting inside.
  • Use a freestanding indoor air filter with particle removal to help protect people with heart disease, asthma or other respiratory conditions and the elderly and children.
  • Do not add to indoor pollution: Don’t smoke or use candles, fireplaces, etc. and don’t vacuum because it stirs up particles already inside your home.

The good news: Air quality levels are expected to start improving as models show much-needed rain arriving late Monday at the coast and early Tuesday in the Willamette Valley.

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