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Air quality warning remains in effect through Thursday for Puget Sound region

Smoke from wildfires fills the air along Alaskan Way on Sept. 12, 2020 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Lindsey Wasson/Getty Images)

The National Weather Service expects smoke and poor air quality to persist through most of the week across western Washington.

“Smoke and air quality will continue to remain an issue across [western Washington] for much of the upcoming week as a series of frontal systems have a difficult time moving through the area,” the NWS forecast for Monday predicts.

Air quality is typically measured on a scale of 0 to 500. Between 51 and 100 is considered “moderate,” 101 to 150 is “unhealthy for sensitive groups,” 151 to 200 is “unhealthy,” 201 to 300 is “very unhealthy,” and 301 to 500 is considered “hazardous.”

Check the Air Quality Map

As of Monday afternoon, air quality in areas from Bellingham to Olympia sits around 300. In Seattle, most neighborhoods are above that 300 benchmark in the “hazardous” category. You can monitor ongoing air quality through the Washington Department of Ecology’s interactive map here.

An air quality warning for western Washington — originally set to expire at 11 a.m. Monday — now extends through 12 p.m. Thursday. In eastern Washington, the air quality warning runs through 12 p.m. Friday.

After Monday, things are a little more uncertain, with a “chance of showers” Tuesday and Wednesday in parts of western Washington, “but nothing widespread or organized is expected.”

“It’s hard to say how this will affect smoke across the area,” the NWS notes.

The NWS noted light precipitation in the south Sound on Monday, but said there’s a better chance for showers and possible thunderstorms on Thursday and Friday before conditions dry out over the weekend.

In the meantime, a weekend closure of Seattle parks, beaches, boat ramps, and play fields was extended through the end of Wednesday, Sept. 16. Restrooms in parks will remain open. While the city is not issuing citations, all residents are strongly encouraged to avoid outdoor recreation and remain inside if they are able for the duration of the unhealthy air quality.

Seattle also plans to keep the smoke relief shelter for those experiencing homelessness open until Wednesday. Currently, there are 100 people staying in the SoDo relief shelter, but King County and Salvation Army staff are welcoming as many guests as possible into the shelter without creating unsafe conditions for the spread of COVID-19.

“The continuing poor air quality poses a health risk to every resident in King County, but particularly to those who do not have a home where they can get relief,” said King County Executive Dow Constantine.

Protecting your health

The Puget Sound Clean Air Agency recommends staying indoors with the windows closed as much as possible.

The agency’s Dr. Phil Swartzendruber told CBS that people are inhaling what is essentially microscopic tar and creosote, similar to what might collect in your chimney.

“That’s essentially what the smoke is,” Swartzendruber said. “So that’s getting deep into the lungs and penetrating into the lungs. That can aggravate the system, can cause a stressor on the heart and lungs.”

Can COVID masks protect against Washington wildfire smoke?

While smoke remains, residents are advised to keep windows closed and avoid going outdoors whenever possible, especially those with preexisting respiratory problems. Find additional tips from the state Department of Health on how to protect yourself from smoke online here.

“Unhealthy air quality means that everyone, especially sensitive groups, should limit time spent outdoors, avoid strenuous activities outdoors, and choose light indoor activities,” the NWS states.

The Department of Environmental & Occupational Health Sciences at the University of Washington has put together a list of tips for dealing with smoke. Besides closing windows and staying indoors, the DEOHS recommends people avoid vacuuming or frying food. Also, try to recirculate air with a fan that has a filter. You can build your own by putting a HEPA filter into a box fan.

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