Wildfires aren’t just burning out of control, they’re linked to a rise in Covid

Well, it’s August, so of course, that means children are heading back to school — oh, and California is on fire again. More accurately, much of the western United States — in addition to parts of Greece, Spain, and Turkey — is on fire. The summer heatwave has brought with it drought and turned large swaths of land into tinderboxes that have become ablaze. With fires comes smoke, and now, with smoke comes Covid. 

The Delta variant is sweeping across the globe, and new research suggests that the smoke from wildfires is partially fueling that. 

According to Smithsonian Magazine, smoke contains very tiny particles that can find their way into human lung tissue. These tiny particles known as PM2.5 can weaken the lungs, bring on asthma attacks, and in general, make people more susceptible to illness — like Covid. 

“The year 2020 brought unimaginable challenges in public health, with the convergence of the Covid-19 pandemic and wildfires across the western United States,” study author Francesca Dominici told the Harvard Gazette.

The team at Harvard who has been studying Covid’s link to the wildfires looked at data collected from over 90 counties in California, Oregon, and Washington from March of 2020 through December 2020. By looking at air quality ratings released by the EPA, the team discovered that counties with lower quality air due to wildfire smoke also reported higher numbers of Covid-19 — between 11 and 20 percent higher. 

It stands to reason to believe that with the Delta variant even more ruthless, and wildfires now in full blaze, areas with heavy smoke are again seeing an uptick in Covid cases.

According to The New York Times, California has so far this year seen the loss of over 600,000 acres due to wildfires. Scientists have largely penned the blame on climate change that has resulted in not just drier conditions, but increased lighting strikes, and strong winds — all coming together to create a perfect storm of wildfires. It’s not particularly catching scientists who have been studying climate change off-guard either. As Jonathan Martin, a professor of atmospheric science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, told NBC News, this has been on the horizon for some time.

“Climate scientists were predicting exactly these kinds of things, that there would be an enhanced threat of these types of extreme events brought on by increased warming,” said Jonathan Martin, a professor of atmospheric science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “It’s very distressing. These are not encouraging signs for our immediate future.”

According to a new report by the United Nations, climate change will only fuel more extreme weather such as droughts, in addition to floods. And Covid doesn’t appear to be going away anytime soon. The CDC recently announced that with the continuous spread of the virus, and evidence of waning vaccine protection, a booster shot will be needed for all Americans. 

While a mass booster shot rollout isn’t expected to begin until around the end of September, the wildfires continue to burn — making for what Dominici calls “a very dangerous combination.”

Photos via Wikimedia Commons

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