Wildfire Smoke Safety & Today’s Public Health Report | Thu Sep 10

The entire West Coast is pocked with wildfires, sending dense columns of smoke into our region.  As we head into a weekend likely full of air quality issues, we take a moment to talk about non-COVID related health safety.

Smoke from the fires is unhealthy for everyone, but it’s especially dangerous for people with respiratory conditions such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.  Unfortunately, our homes are not necessarily good at maintaining clean indoor air during smoke events.  

The following information is from a combination of sources, including Public Health Insider and Kaiser Permanente.

Prepare your home:

  • Make your house tight by closing windows and doors and close any gaps with weather stripping (v-strips, foam tape and door sweeps), available at the hardware store.
  • 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.
  • Heat can be another serious hazard, so if your home becomes too hot, its better to open a window to cool the home down, even if it lets in some smoke.
  • If you can’t keep the smoke entirely out of your home, make a “clean room” that you can close off and seal.
  • Avoid other pollutants from burning candles, incense, or cigarettes; or from spraying aerosol products; using gas- or wood-burning stoves or fireplaces, frying or broiling food and vacuuming.
  • Use fans in each room to help move the air in your house.
  • Clean the air with a DIY air cleaner using a box fan and a furnace filter.
  • If have central heating/cooling in your home, replace the filter with a higher efficiency filter (MERV 13 or higher) if it does not already have one.

Precautions for those with respiratory conditions:

  • Use your long-term control medications (like Alvesco or Advair) as prescribed.
  • Use “quick relief” inhalers to help with shortness of breath.
  • If you have oxygen, use it if you have difficulty breathing.

About face masks and smoke:

  • Adults may benefit from using a snug-fitting non-medical, industrial N95 mask if they have one and must be outdoors. N95 masks without vents will help protect you from the smoke and help prevent the spread of COVID-19. N95 masks with vents will protect you from unhealthy air but will not prevent the spread of COVID-19.
  • Cloth masks and face coverings that help slow the spread of COVID-19 aren’t effective for smoke.
  • We don’t recommend children wear N95 masks. N95s aren’t made for children and may not fit properly. They won’t protect children from smoke. Masks and cloth face coverings also can obstruct breathing in babies and young children. It’s best to keep children indoors to reduce smoke exposure.

For more information

Stay informed about hazards and threats in King County by signing up to receive Alert King County. It’s free, and you can choose to get notifications by text, email or phone.If you have difficulty breathing and would like medical advice, call our 24/7 Consulting Nurse Service at 1‑800‑297‑6877. If you think you have a medical emergency, call 911 for assistance.

Otherwise, the rest of this post is our regular synthesis of the Public Health data, provided by Will Daugherty of Pacific Science Center.  Thanks Will!  

Update from Public Health – Seattle & King County

Public Health has updated the data dashboard.  The daily summary shows that there were 20,440 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in King County as of 11:59 on September 8, 120 more than the previous day.  There have been 741 confirmed deaths in King County due to COVID-19, 3.6% of all confirmed cases.

The numbers that Public Health reports each day include delayed results from previous days.

Observations

The first graph below shows new cases (blue bars) and the 7-day average (red line).  Of the 120 new cases reported today, 55 were confirmed yesterday and 65 were confirmed in previous days.  The 7-day average of new cases per day peaked at 195 on April 1.  The average for the last 7 days is now 84 new cases per day, down from 105 a week ago.  The 7-day average has decreased 20% in the last week and 29% in the last two weeks.

The key indicators that the State and County are using to make decisions about reopening include a measure of the total number of cases reported in the previous 14 days per 100K residents.  The target for this metric is less than 25.  The second and third graphs below show this metric.  The second graph goes back to March 12, the first day on which the metric could be reported.  The third graph provides a more detailed view of results in the last several weeks. 59.4 cases were reported per 100K residents during the 14-day period August 26 – September 8.

As of today, September 9, two of the eight key indicators are not meeting the targets established by the Washington State Department of Health.  The key indicators not meeting targets are:

  • Total number of cases for the last 14 days per 100,000 residents.
  • Number of days (median) between illness onset and test date over the last 7 days.

Thank you for being curious.

-Will

Will Daugherty welcomes your questions and comments.  His email is wdaugherty@pacsci.org

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