Most of us may never experience the symptoms of COVID-19, but nobody in the Grand Valley is exempt from the effects of the wildfire smoke currently filling the air.

Many Grand Valley residents awoke this morning to the strong smell of smoke inside their homes, and an unusually high presence of smoke outside that resembled early morning fog. Heavy smoke from a wildfire can irritate your lungs, cause inflammation, and affect your immune system, making you more vulnerable to lung infections, including COVID-19.

According to Mesa County Public Health, smoke from the Pine Gulch Fire north of Grand Junction is causing legitimate air quality concerns. Air quality monitors in the Grand Junction area have shown AQI levels in the "unhealthy, or red category", with even greater impacts at the east end of the valley near Palisade. With these levels, even individuals that don't have underlying or compromised health conditions may be affected.

The greatest risk of harmful health effects from wildfire smoke is to children under 18, people over 65, pregnant women, individuals with chronic health conditions like heart or lung disease, asthma, and diabetes. Others who are at high risk include outdoor workers, the homeless, and people who are "immunocompromised of taking drugs that suppress the immune system."

There are some similarities between the symptoms of smoke exposure and COVID-19. Dry cough, sore throat, and difficulty breathing could be the result of either affliction. However, if you have a fever, chills, muscle or body aches, and diarrhea, you should call the COVID-19 hotline (970-683-2300) to be screened for testing. Those aren't symptoms of smoke exposure.

Mesa County Public Health has offered some strategies to reduce exposure to wildfire smoke and avoid its harmful effects.

* Stay indoors as much as possible
* Limit outdoor activity
* Keep doors and windows tightly closed
* Create a "clean room" in your home with filtered air
* Use air conditioners, fans, and window shades to keep your house cool
* Limit use of swamp coolers during times of heavy smoke, unless there is a heat emergency
* Keep your car windows and vents closed
* Turn the air conditioning to recirculate mode

They also suggest reducing activities that create smoke or air pollutants such as smoking, spraying aerosol products, frying or boiling food, burning candles or incense, and vacuuming, unless your vacuum uses a HEPA filter.

The smoke is a temporary situation and we all would be well-advised to heed some of this advice to get through this smokey period with as little impact as possible.

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