Wildfires Could Worsen Coronavirus Pandemic, Experts Warn

A CFA Member works on controlled back burns along Putty Road in Sydney, Australia.
Brett Hemmings / Getty Images

Medical experts worry that the raging wildfires in California and other western states could worsen the coronavirus pandemic, The Hill reported on Friday.

Wildfire smoke, which can weaken the immune system and cause respiratory illnesses, has made air quality in parts of the country the worst in the world.

Exposure to pollution can cause coughing, shortness of breath, sore throat and other similar symptoms.

It also poses a major threat to those with asthma and other health conditions, but the smoke could also worsen the effects of the novel coronavirus, leading to more severe cases or even death.

“At the levels of air pollution we’re seeing in the Northwest now, it’s a matter of concern for everyone,” Dr. David Hill, a spokesperson for the American Lung Association, explained.

Amid the pandemic, “having worse air quality might make it more likely for them to get infected and have worse disease with COVID-19,” he said.

According to Dr. Stephanie Christensen, an assistant professor of pulmonology at University of California San Francisco, although there is no concrete evidence that wildfire smoke would make the COVID-19 illness more severe, “we can speculate that is true.”

“If you have inflammation from one thing like wildfires and you get COVID-19 on top of that also causing inflammation, that could compound each other and cause hospitalizations or other bad outcomes.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has also warned that exposure to pollution could increase the risk of getting respiratory infections, including coronavirus.

Since the fires began, hospitals have seen an increase in admissions, according to Stanford University’s Mary Prunicki.

Research shows that admissions increased 43 percent for cerebrovascular disorders, 17 percent for asthma. Admissions for kidney-related disorders, cardiovascular diseases and substance abuse have also gone up.

As Prunicki noted, socioeconomic factors could also play a major role going forward, since only the most affluent Americans are able to escape to safer areas.

The Bobcat Fire burns in Juniper Hills, California.
  Mario Tama / Getty Images

The fires have made disease prevention more difficult.

Residents of affected areas have been encouraged to stay indoors, where the virus spreads more easily. In addition, there is a shortage of N95 masks, which are the only masks that offer protection against both toxic particles and the virus.

State governments have struggled to contain the fires amid record-breaking high temperatures. During a recent roundtable in San Francisco, Donald Trump suggested that poor forest management, not climate change, is to blame for the crisis.

“It will start getting cooler. You just watch,” he told Wade Crowfoot of the California Natural Resources Agency.