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Wildfire Smoke and COVID-19

Forest with trees in flames and the sky covered in smoke.

Wildfire smoke can irritate your lungs, cause inflammation, affect your immune system, and make you more prone to lung infections, including SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, preparing for wildfires might be a little different this year. Know how wildfire smoke can affect you and your loved ones during the COVID-19 pandemic and what you can do to protect yourselves.

Prepare for wildfires.

Cloth masks will not protect you from wildfire smoke.

Cloth masks that are used to slow the spread of COVID-19 by blocking respiratory droplets offer little protection against wildfire smoke. They might not catch small, harmful particles in smoke that can harm your health.

N95 and KN95 respirators can provide protection from wildfire smoke and from getting and spreading COVID-19. KN95 respirators are commonly made in China and are similar to N95 masks commonly used in the United States. Look for KN95 masks that meet requirements similar to those set by CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) for respirators.

Take actions to protect yourself from wildfire smoke during the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • The best way to protect against the potentially harmful effects of wildfire smoke is to reduce your exposure to wildfire smoke, for example, by seeking cleaner air shelters and cleaner air spaces.
  • Limit your outdoor exercise when it is smoky outside or choose lower-intensity activities to reduce your smoke exposure.

Keep in mind that while physical distancing guidelines are in place, finding cleaner air might be harder if public facilities such as libraries, community centers, and shopping malls are closed or have limited their capacity.

Create a cleaner air space at home to protect yourself from wildfire smoke during the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • Use a portable air cleaner in one or more rooms. Portable air cleaners work best when run continuously with doors and windows closed.
  • If you use a do-it-yourself box fanexternal icon filtration unit, never leave it unattended.
  • During periods of extreme heat, pay attention to temperature forecastsexternal icon and know how to stay safe in the heat.
  • Whenever you can, use air conditioners, heat pumps, fans, and window shades to keep your cleaner air space comfortably cool on hot days.
  • If you have a forced air system in your home, you may need to speak with a qualified heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) professional about different filters (HEPA or MERV-13 or higher) and settings (“Recirculate” and “On” rather than “Auto”) you can use to reduce indoor smoke.
  • Avoid activities that create more indoor and outdoor air pollution, such as frying foods, sweeping, vacuuming, and using gas-powered appliances.

Know the difference between symptoms from smoke exposure and COVID-19.

  • Some symptoms, like dry cough, sore throat, and difficulty breathing can be caused by both wildfire smoke exposure and COVID-19.
  • Learn about symptoms of COVID-19. Symptoms like fever or chills, muscle or body aches, and diarrhea are not related to smoke exposure. If you have any of these symptoms, the CDC COVID-19 Self-Checker can help you determine whether you need further assessment or testing for COVID-19. If you have questions after using the CDC COVID-19 Self-Checker,  contact a healthcare provider.
  • If you have severe symptoms, like difficulty breathing or chest pain, immediately call 911 or the nearest emergency facility.

People with COVID-19 are at increased risk from wildfire smoke during the pandemic.

People who currently have or who are recovering from COVID-19 may be at increased risk of health effects from exposure to wildfire smoke due to compromised heart and/or lung function related to COVID-19.

Know whether you are at risk from wildfire smoke during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Some people are more at risk of harmful health effects from wildfire smoke than others. Those most at risk include:

  • Children less than 18 years old
  • Adults aged 65 years or older
  • Pregnant women
  • People with chronic health conditions such as heart or lung disease, asthma, and diabetes
  • Outdoor workers
  • People who have lower socioeconomic status, including individuals experiencing homelessness or those who have limited access to medical care
  • People who are immunocompromised or taking drugs that suppress the immune system

Know what to do if you must evacuate.

  • Pay attention to local guidance about updated plans for evacuations and shelters, including potential shelters for your pets.
  • Whether you decide to evacuate or are asked to evacuate by state or local authorities, evacuate safely.
  • When you check on neighbors and friends before evacuating, be sure to follow social distancing recommendations (staying at least 6 feet from others) and other CDC recommendations to protect yourself and others.
  • If you need to go to a disaster shelter, follow CDC recommendations for staying safe and healthy in a public disaster shelter during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Stay informed. Know where to find information about air quality and COVID-19 in your area.

Infographic: Be Ready! Hurricanes Ready: Prepare. Plan. Stay Informed. Social Media at CDC Emergency