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Smoke advisory issued for schools

Children are especially vulnerable to wildfire smoke. [Associated Press / file photo]
Children especially vulnerable to wildfire smoke

Jackson County Public Health and Oregon Health Authority officials are advising schools and their athletic departments to be aware of wildfire smoke when making decisions about sports practices and games, recess, P.E. and other outdoor activities.

Starting Monday evening, a shift in the wind and the continued spread of the Rum Creek Fire northwest of Grants Pass pushed smoke into the unhealthy range in the Medford area and the hazardous range in the Grants Pass area.

Schools should follow public health guidance for outdoor activities listed at sharedsystems.dhsoha.state.or.us/DHSForms/Served/le8815h.pdf and Oregon Schools Activity Association guidance at www.osaa.org/health-safety/air-quality.

School officials are encouraged to check local conditions using the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality’s Air Quality Index map at oraqi.deq.state.or.us/home/map.

Because smoky conditions can change rapidly and before the next Air Quality Index update, school officials should look outside to see actual air conditions. For instructions on estimating smoke levels by looking at buildings and landmarks in the distance, see www.oregon.gov/deq/wildfires/Pages/Using-Visibility-to-Estimate-Health-Effects.aspx.

“Children are particularly sensitive to smoke because their respiratory systems are still developing. In addition, their airways are smaller, and they breathe in more air per pound of body weight,” public health officials said in a press release.

Schools should consider more indoor exercise options once air quality reaches “unhealthy for sensitive groups” and “unhealthy” levels, public health officials said.

No one should be outside during “hazardous” conditions, according to DEQ.

In addition to children, other people who are especially vulnerable to smoke include senior citizens, pregnant women and anyone with health conditions like asthma, respiratory illness, heart disease or lung disease, DEQ said.

Wildfire smoke contains tiny particles that can embed deep in the lungs and even enter the bloodstream. People exercising outdoors frequently breathe in 10 times as much air as people not exercising, according to smoke experts.

When wildfires are active, public health officials advise adults to watch for signs that children and teens may be suffering symptoms from smoke exposure.

Wildfire smoke can make asthma symptoms worse and trigger asthma attacks. Symptoms of asthma include coughing, shortness of breath, wheezing and chest tightness. Even students without known asthma can have symptoms when exposed to unhealthy levels of wildfire smoke, public health officials said.

Students with asthma should follow their asthma action plan to help them decide if they need to take special precautions while engaging in outdoor activities. Athletes with asthma should have rescue inhalers readily available, public health officials said.

Local providers at urgent care clinics report they are seeing more patients suffering respiratory problems this summer, including worsening asthma and allergic reactions to smoke. Patients with allergic reactions may experience inflamed, constricted airways and lungs; pressure or pain in the chest; congestion; coughing and difficulty breathing.

Symptoms of an allergic reaction to smoke can mimic COVID-19 symptoms. Health care providers may recommend a COVID-19 test to help with a diagnosis and course of treatment.

Anyone experiencing symptoms of respiratory trouble should contact a health care provider. Call 911 in an emergency, public health officials said.

For information on air quality advisories and smoke forecasts, see www.oregonsmoke.org/.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or valdous@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @VickieAldous.