Wildfire smoke will linger until midweek

The current air quality alert lasts until Thursday at noon.

Smoke from wildfires across the West Coast will linger in the skies above Whidbey until at least Thursday, according to the National Weather Service.

The air quality alert that was supposed to end Monday has been extended until noon on Thursday. Air quality is expected to remain in the range of “unhealthy to very unhealthy” but may improve “only slightly into the unhealthy or unhealthy for sensitive groups” range mid-week, according to the alert.

That means everyone should stay indoors and close windows until the smoke clears.

Oak Harbor scored 178 Monday afternoon on the state Department of Ecology air quality map; scores range from 1-500, with a higher score noting increasingly hazardous air. A score of 178 falls in within the “unhealthy” category.

The wildfire smoke affects people in different ways, according to Nic Wildeman at WhidbeyHealth community relations.

“Everybody’s reaction to smoke, if they have one, is going to be unique. If somebody has a chronic respiratory problem, they will be aware of what their symptoms are,” he said.

However, if anybody is having “severe difficulty breathing, chest pain or dizziness, they should call 911,” he said.

Additional air filters on HVAC systems or portable air filtration devices can improve air quality indoors, according to the state Department of Health, but they can be expensive and hard to find when everyone wants to buy one. The Department of Health has online instructions for how to make an air filter to improve indoor air quality. A homemade air filter can be made with a simple box fan and a MERV 13 rated air filter. Attach the filter to the back of the fan and place it in the middle of a room. Both items can be ordered through hardware stores.

If someone does need to go outside they should consider wearing an N95 mask or a respirator, although both are in short supply because of COVID-19, according to the state Department of Health.

“If anybody is concerned, they should certainly call their primary care doctor,” Wildeman said, adding that it is best to stay indoors.

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