In addition to stinging eyes and constricting chests, the wildfire smoke now engulfing large parts of the United States may also be contributing to the recent increase in severe COVID-19 cases. According to recent research, data from three Western states that experience regular wildfires indicates that the number of COVID-19 cases and fatalities increases in direct proportion to the quantity of smoke pollution in the air.
An everyday increase in fine particle pollution of just ten micrograms per cubic meter (g/m3) of air was found to be associated with just an average 12 percent increase in COVID-19 cases and an average 8 percent increase in COVID-related deaths so over the course of the month last year, according to the study’s lead author, Xiaodan Zhou, as wildfires raged.
Wildfires May Exacerbate COVID Risks At The Present Situation
A statistician at the Environmental Systems Research Institute (ESRI) in Redlands, California, she works on climate change research. As a result, the researchers concluded that thousands of COVID-19 cases and fatalities in California, Oregon, and Washington between March and December 2020 might be attributed to the air pollution produced by wildfire smoke. Still, the study could not establish a causal relationship.
Doctor AmeshAdalja, a senior researcher at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security in Baltimore, believes that the connection between wildfire smoke and respiratory diseases such as COVID-19 seems logical in this case.
Zhou recommended that individuals be vaccinated due to the results since they provide even another reason to do so. According to the researchers, wildfire smoke has previously been linked to premature mortality, asthma, COPD, and other respiratory diseases in the past.
As part of their research, Zhou and colleagues developed a statistical model that analyzed county-level pollution data and COVID-19 counts from 92 counties throughout the three states. The findings were published on August 13 in the journal Science Advances. Ninety-five percent of the state’s population was distributed among the counties. The scientists discovered that the highest level of fire activity during the burn season occurred from August 15 to October 15, 2020, and that this activity resulted in substantially more significant levels of fine particle pollution in the atmosphere for days and weeks at a time.
Examples include four consecutive days in September 2020 in Mono County, Calif., with PM 2.5 levels more than 500 micrograms per cubic meter of air (levels considered “hazardous” by the United States Environmental Protection Agency). Those same counties also saw an increase in the number of COVID-19 cases and fatalities as well.
Researchers discovered a link between long-term increases in air pollution from wildfire smoke and an increase in the frequency and severity of COVID-19 cases after accounting for other variables such as weather and population size.
According to the study’s authors, it was discovered that wildfires had an impact on COVID-19 cases and fatalities for up to four weeks in certain instances. According to the study, an increase in particle pollution of 10 g/m3 of air per day was linked with a 53 percent increase in COVID-19 fatalities in the counties of Calaveras and San Bernardino, California. This was the most significant impact the researchers found, and it was seen in both counties.
According to the researchers, the same amount of increased air pollution was related to the highest increase in COVID-19 infections in the smoke-choked counties of Sonoma and Whitman in California and Washington, respectively, with increases of 65 percent and 72 percent.
According to the study, on days when wildfires were raging, the smoke they generated resulted in the most significant proportion of extra fatalities in the counties of Butte and Calaveras, California, where the flames were burning. On wildfire days, high particle pollution levels were responsible for 41 percent and 137 percent of the total number of COVID-19 fatalities that occurred in these counties, respectively, according to the data.