Poor air quality from wildfire smoke brings added concerns during COVID-19 pandemic in Colorado

Posted at 5:00 PM, Aug 13, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-13 21:15:45-04

DENVER — The smoke from Colorado’s wildfires has made its way into the Front Range, with many waking up to the hazy sight and smell. But a usual yearly occurrence and warning for the older and sicker members of the community is amplified this year during a pandemic.

“This is more than a nuisance. Not only are we dealing with smoke but we’re dealing with COVID-19,” Scott Landes of the Colorado Air Pollution Control Division for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) told Denver7 Thursday.

The CDPHE issued a warning and an ‘action day’ as a result of particulates in the air from smoke as well as added ozone from the wildfires burning in Grand Junction and Glenwood Canyon.

“If I had to put it on a 1-10 scale I’d put it as a 7, maybe even an 8,” Landes said.

With particulates and ozone, those with heart and lung conditions as well as the very old and very young should limit their time outdoors and monitor how they are feeling. Landes’ added concern this year comes from the coronavirus.

“This wildfire smoke can actually increase some of the symptoms of COVID-19 and could make you more vulnerable to COVID-19 because the smoke can work to break down your immune system,” he said, citing studies that showed high exposure to particulates could make a person more susceptible.

“More people may have problems related to the air quality than in years past because more people are dealing with respiratory complications from the virus,” Dr. Eric Hill of the Medical Center of Aurora said.

Dr. Hill runs the emergency room at the Medical Center of Aurora, and says the smoke by itself may not increase your risk for contracting the virus, but the actions you take in response to poor air quality could.

“If you change your behaviors and start doing things that you haven’t been doing before, that could increase your risk,” Dr. Hill said, referring to gathering in large groups indoors as an example.

Dr. Hill recognized the difficulty in changing previous recommendations that people spend time outside in fresh air, to now telling them it might be better to gather indoors where filtered air can help reduce particulates.

There is good news though, as transport winds that have been pushing the smoke into the metro area are forecast to shift, clearing out some of that smoke from the Denver area by the weekend.

For more information on the air quality alert and action day, head to