• Ryan Honary

How wildfires may be contributing to COVID-19

Did you know that the smoke caused by fires can actually increase the chance of you getting COVID-19? I know this sounds crazy, but according to the Journal of Exposure Science & Environmental Epidemiology, the amount of COVID-19 cases from August to September of 2020 in Reno, Nevada increased at the same time the wildfires occurred. This is an extremely large problem because even though the fire may only impact thousands of people, the smoke can impact millions.

One of the most dangerous ingredients of smoke is called PM 2.5 particles and they are smaller than 2.5 micrometers in size. The PM 2.5 particles can enter your bloodstream and travel to your heart and lungs. The worst part is that the amount of wildfires happening each year is only increasing.

The goal of the scientists who wrote the Journal of Exposure Science & Environmental Epidemiology was to find out “whether the smoke from the 2020 wildfires in the western United States were associated with an increased rate of COVID-19 in Reno, Nevada.” They did so by first taking PM2.5 concentration from four air quality monitors owned by the Environmental Protection Agency; the monitors were located in Reno and Sparks. They used a weighted average of the daily concentrations reported by each monitor to estimate the daily exposure of the population to PM2.5. The weights were proportional to how close the patients lived to each air quality monitor. Located near the Reno airport, the KRNO weather station provided temperature and humidity data for the scientists.

The COVID-19 nucleic acid amplification, or NAA, test results and patient demographic data were then obtained from a local hospital. They tested 35,955 individuals for COVID-19. During their study period, the number of NAA tests increased steadily from an average of 130 tests per day in the second half of May to 404 tests per day in the first half of October. The air quality was affected by wildfire smoke for 59 days during their study period. The scientists found that “ten micrometers per cubic meter increase in the seven day average PM2.5 concentration was associated with a 6.3% relative increase in the COVID-19 test positivity rate, with a 95% confidence interval of 2.5% to 10.3%.”

In conclusion, PM2.5 are dangerous particles that increase the likelihood of respiratory diseases such as COVID-19. Wildfires produce massive amounts of PM2.5 particles and make the environment extremely dirty. If we do not do anything about these wildfires, then they are only going to get worse-and-worse which will only cause them to produce more PM2.5 particles. This would increase the number of illnesses each year and also make the air dirty for all organisms alike. All in all, I believe that wildfires are a colossal problem and should be acted upon immediately.

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