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


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.


Follow Victoria Holmes on Twitter @VicAntHol

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