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Smoke can make COVID-19 worse

Wildfire smoke from Northern California seeped into the Rogue Valley air this week, just as Jackson County health officials warned COVID-19 could be worsened by air pollution.

Jackson County health officials say residents should be aware of rising and falling smoke levels, which can fluctuate rapidly depending on weather conditions like wind direction.

“The overlap of the COVID-19 pandemic with wildfire season ... complicates public health response to wildfire smoke,” Jackson County Public Health said in a news release.

People who have COVID-19 or are recovering from the virus are sensitive to smoke, according to health officials.

Vulnerable populations include pregnant women, outdoor workers, children younger than 18 and adults older than 65, as well as people with chronic health conditions such as heart or lung disease, asthma and diabetes.

To avoid smoke, officials say Jackson County residents should avoid outdoor activities, stay inside while making sure to keep windows and doors shut, and use air conditioning or air filters to keep the air in homes clean.

Officials do not recommend residents wear N95 masks or use P100 respirators to protect themselves from smoke, because those resources are in short supply and are needed by health care workers responding to the pandemic.

“We don’t have enough of them,” said Dr. Jim Shames, Jackson County medical director. He said N95 masks have never been a full-throated recommendation by public health officials for protection against wildfire smoke, and have served more as a last-resort measure.

Shames said people may not know how to properly wear N95 masks, while medical professionals are trained and have masks specially fitted.

Most of the smoke blowing into the Rogue Valley this week is from the July Complex raging in Modoc and Siskiyou counties in Northern California.

That fire is burning over an area of more than 81,000 acres and is 45% contained, according to InciWeb, a federal incident information website that provides information about U.S. wildfires.

Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneThe view from Roxy Ann Peak on Thursday looking through the haze and smoke over Medford.
N95 mask