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B.C.'s top doctor recommends wearing masks outside due to wildfire smoke

Last Updated Sep 14, 2020 at 6:25 pm PDT

FILE - Wildfire smoke from Washington state is creeping into B.C. (Courtesy Russ Lacate, Twitter)
Summary

Dr. Bonnie Henry recommended Monday wearing masks outside due to poor air quality because of wildfire smoke

Henry is concerned about confusion people are having about symptoms caused by smoke and COVID-19

B.C.'s top doctor also recommends keeping windows closed as long as smoke lingers

VICTORIA (NEWS 1130) — Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry recommends wearing masks outside due to poor air quality because of wildfire smoke.

“That is something that people should be doing when they’re outside right now,” she said Monday while announcing six deaths and 317 more COVID-19 cases over the weekend.

“We must now all hold steady with our layers of protection and get ready for what we know, lies ahead,” Henry added. “We have to do our part, and be ready for unexpected challenges like we are seeing right now with the wildfire smoke here and that’s impacting our communities across the province.”

Henry said outdoor or strenuous exercise should be avoided until the wildfire smoke clears.

“We know that mask-wearing can help. If it’s tight-fitting, it can help as well in reducing the amount of inhaled particulates that we bring into our lungs, so that is something that people should be doing when they’re outside right now,” she said.

“We want to avoid strenuous exercise outside and limit our indoor exercise, as well, to low intensity, and for people who do have asthma or other chronic heart disease or chronic lung conditions to make sure that you have your medications with you.”

Henry also said she’s concerned about confusion people are having about what symptoms are caused by the smoky skies and which are related to COVID-19, especially with students back in classrooms.

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A dry cough, runny or irritated eyes or throats can be associated both with smoke and COVID-19, she said. But fever, chills and aches are more associated with COVID-19

“So that’s one of the things that you can use to tell the difference,” she said.

Henry added some schools and classrooms have filters to help clear the air while wildfire smoke lingers, she added.

“But we don’t want the windows open. We want to reduce the amount of smoke that’s coming in,” she said, “and that is something different from what we’ve been saying, where we want to increase ventilation if windows are available and people being outside because of it reduces the risk of COVID.” 

The wildfire smoke is supposed to dissipate later in the week.

On Monday, a number of schools in New Westminster were closed due to toxic smoke from a fire at Pier Park the night before.

Earlier in the day, the B.C. Teachers’ Federation expressed concerns about keeping people in rooms without fresh air and urged members to take a sick day if feeling unwell.

The Surrey, Vancouver, and Delta school districts said student could stay indoors during recess and lunch because of the smoke.

Since late last week, B.C. has recorded among the worst air quality readings in the world because of the wildfire smoke.