Wildfires and COVID: Are They Connected?

In many places around the world, wildfires are growing more and more common due to global warming. And as the smoke from wildfires are known to be harmful to lung health, scientists have also discovered that exposure to the smoke may also increase susceptibility to COVID-19.

In this study, scientists from the Center for Genomic Medicine conducted research on the Reno-Tahoe area, where wildfires have recently been active. The team used models to find correlation between fine particulate matter of wildfire smoke and coronavirus positivity rates. 

According to the data, long term exposure to wildfire smoke caused a 17.7 percent increase in COVID cases contracted during the time period from August 16 to October 10, 2020. 

“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, M.S., co-lead author of the study and assistant research scientist of data science at DRI. “This is important to be aware of as we are already confronting heavy wildfire smoke from the Beckwourth Complex fire and with COVID-19 cases again rising in Nevada and other parts of the Western U.S.”

The 2020 wildfires on the west coast had a huge impact on many major cities. And with millions of people living in this region, the smoke from the wildfires could have a huge impact on human health. 

“We had a unique situation here in Reno last year where we were exposed to wildfire smoke more often than many other areas, including the Bay Area,” said Gai Elhanan, M.D., co-lead author of the study and associate research scientist of computer science at DRI. “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.”
This study built off of research conducted on other major west coast hot spots for wildfires, such as the Bay Area and Orange County. This critical research will impact how humans live in a world with increasing wildfires in the future.


Categories: Society