Wildfire Smoke Has Caused Rise in COVID Infections and Deaths, Study Finds

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      Last year more than 10m acres of land were torched by wildfires, with five out of the six largest fires ever documented in California occurring within just a few months. The burning trees, shrubs and buildings gave off enormous plumes of smoke containing small particles of soot. The spread of these tiny particles, known as PM2.5, probably caused a spike in Covid cases and deaths in parts of the US west, the new paper has discovered. The smoke helped raise the coronavirus infection rate by nearly 20% in certain counties, with half of all Covid deaths in some places attributable to the pollution, according to the study.

      “In some counties the association was very strong indeed – on days with lots of wildfire smoke the Covid cases went up by a lot,” said Francesca Dominici, a professor at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health who co-authored the research, which was led by Xiaodan Zhou, a researcher at Esri. “Combining wildfires with this pandemic can have a really disastrous effect. It’s disturbing.”

      Previous research, which Dominici was also involved in, found that a small rise in people’s long-term exposure to air pollution is associated with an 11% increase in deaths from Covid. Another study from last year suggests that 15% of all Covid-19 deaths around the world are attributable to dirty air. Researchers have said more work needs to be done to fully establish the connections but there was now compelling evidence that polluted air is exacerbating outbreaks of the coronavirus. It is thought that emitted pollutants can help spread the infection, while also weakening people’s lungs before they are infected with Covid, raising the likelihood they will get severely ill or die.

      The latest paper, published in Science Advances, analyzed 92 counties across California, Washington and Oregon and sought to eliminate causes of Covid increases other than nearby wildfires. It found that the wildfires had the largest impact upon Covid cases in the counties of Butte, California, and Whitman, Washington. The greatest influence on Covid deaths, meanwhile, was found in Butte county and Calaveras county,

      Jesus: Hey, Dad? God: Yes, Son? Jesus: Western civilization followed me home. Can I keep it? God: Certainly not! And put it down this minute--you don't know where it's been! Tom Robbins in Another Roadside Attraction

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