Wildfire service, researchers warn of dangers of smoke during coronavirus pandemic
VANCOUVER -- With spring underway, B.C.'s wildfire season may not be far along and experts are warning of the dangers of smoke for those recovering during the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Health officials have explained that COVID-19 is a respiratory illness and can significantly impact peoples' ability to breathe or even lead to pneumonia.
According to researchers at the University of British Columba, air pollution can worse symptoms caused by COVID-19
"With the reduced traffic and economic activity due to social distancing, we may be tempted to assume air quality has improved, but in B.C. at this time of the year, our major air pollution sources are open burning of agricultural, forestry and other waste, residential wood heating and road dust," said Michael Brauer, professor at UBC's School of Population and Public Health in a Q+A posted to UBC's website.
"The wildfire season is also quickly approaching, bringing with it the potential for severe smoke."
Christoper Carlesten, professor of medicine and Canada research chair in occupational and environmental lung disease at UBC, said during the SARS outbreak in 2003, air pollution exposure doubled the death risk in those that had the virus.
BC Wildfire Service has highlighted similar concerns, placing restrictions on open burning across the province that it says are "directly in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the effect pollutants have on viral respiratory infections."
"There is strong evidence that exposure to air pollution increases susceptibility to respiratory viral infections by decreasing immune function," a news release from the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy says.
"Evidence suggests that air pollution from combustion sources is most strongly associated with increased risk of viral infection, particularly vehicle emissions and biomass burning."
Under the restrictions, no new fires can be started and no material can be added to existing fires. Those restrictions will be in place in "high smoke sensitivity areas" until April 15.
"While the focus should remain on social distancing to prevent the spread of infection and reduce the number of cases, keeping our air as clean as possible will also help to protect the population during this difficult period," the ministry's statement says.