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‘Heavy Wildfire Smoke’ Increases COVID-19 Risk, Says Researchers

Environmentalists have found a way to ride the coattails of COVID-19’s popularity and stay relevant

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Environmentalists have found a way to ride the coattails of COVID-19’s popularity and stay relevant. Link it to the environment, of course. A study published in the Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology found a connection with COVID-19 cases rising and wildfires.

“Our results showed a substantial increase in the COVID-19 positivity rate in Reno during a time when we were affected by heavy wildfire smoke from California wildfires” said Daniel Kiser, a co-lead author of the study and assistant scientist of data scientist at the Desert Research institute.

Dr. Gai Elhanan, co-lead author of the study and an associate research scientist of computer science at the institute said, “we are located in an intermountain valley that restricts the dispersion of pollutants and possibly increases the magnitude of exposure, which makes it even more important for us to understand smoke impacts on human health.”

“We had a unique situation here in Reno las year where we were exposed to wildfire smoke more often than many other areas, including the Bay Area” added Elhanan. Tiny wildfire particulate matter measures 2.5 micrometers or less, about 1/30th the size of a human hair at its largest.

Scientists refer to the size as PM 2.5 for short. The Reno Gazette Journal reports:

To analyze the relationship between this fine wildfire ash and COVID-19 positivity rates, Kiser and his team collected data from the Washoe County Health District and the region’s big hospital system, Renown Health.

He said they discovered that the PM 2.5 was responsible for a 17.7% increase in the number of COVID-19 cases that occurred during a period of prolonged smoke that took place between Aug. 16, 2020, and Oct. 10, 2020.

Washoe County’s 450,000 residents, many of whom live in Reno, experienced 43 days of elevated PM 2.5 during that period, researchers said, compared with 26 days for residents of the San Francisco Bay Area.

Kiser and Elhanan cite research papers from all over the world exploring a link between the environment and COVID-19.

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