Study finds wildfire smoke may have led to thousands of additional COVID cases and deaths

National

GREENVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) — Researchers from several organizations, including Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, say West Coast wildfires from last year may have contributed to increased COVID-19 cases. With the effects of climate change and increasing smog, researchers wanted to calculate the impact these disasters could have during a pandemic.

According to a press release by Harvard’s School of Public Health, Wildfires produce high levels of fine particulate matter (PM2.5), which has been linked with a host of negative health outcomes, including premature death, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases (COPD) and other respiratory illnesses. In addition, recent studies have found a link between short- and long-term exposure to PM2.5 and COVID-19 cases and deaths.

The study shows 19,700 COVID-19 cases and 770 coronavirus-related deaths across the three states in the study — California, Oregon and Washington — can be attributed to daily increases in PM 2.5 from wildfires. The press release also noted wildfires amplified the effect of exposure to PM2.5 on COVID-19 cases and deaths, up to four weeks after the exposure, the study found. In some counties, the percentage of the total number of COVID-19 cases and deaths attributable to high PM2.5 levels was substantial.

Authors of the study say they hope this information will guide policymakers on how to deal with climate change.

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