With air quality warnings in NC, what should I do or not do to stay safe? Experts answer

A smoky haze shrouds the skyline of Downtown Raleigh, N.C. Wednesday morning, June 7, 2023. Smoke from wildfires in Canada is driving southward in the eastern United States.

A smoky haze shrouds the skyline of Downtown Raleigh, N.C. Wednesday morning, June 7, 2023. Smoke from wildfires in Canada is driving southward in the eastern United States.

A severe air pollution warning is in effect for the Triangle today, as wildfires in Canada send smoke and dangerous debris into North Carolina skies.

The N.C. Division of Air Quality expects conditions to remain risky for people with asthma and other respiratory conditions for the rest of the week.

The News & Observer is compiling answers to frequently asked questions as hazy air continue.

Here’s what to know.

Can I go outside when air quality is bad?

Yes, but people who are especially vulnerable to smoke inhalation should take certain precautions.

“The simplest advice in general today is just to take it easy, but there are some people who appear to be at higher risk for adverse health outcomes today,” said Dr. David Peden, a pediatric allergist and immunologist with UNC Health who researches air pollution.

Who is at risk for smoke inhalation?

If you are in one of the following categories, you should avoid time outside (or take precautions while outside, if it’s necessary to go out) during the severe air quality warning period:

  • Those 65 or older
  • Infants and young children
  • Those who are asthmatic or have other respiratory illness
  • Those who have diabetes or have other cardiovascular diseases

Wear masks: “The N95 has a higher level of filtration and higher level of protection. That’s particularly important for very young or very old people, for people with asthma who are already sensitive to smoke and things in the air,” said Duke Health pulmonologist Dr. Aaron Vose.

Take medication: “If you have any chronic illness and are advised to use medications to keep that illness under control, taking that medication is especially important now,” Peden said.

Should I wear a mask outside?

Yes. Everybody should wear masks to stay as safe as possible, though it’s especially advised for those at increased risk during severe air pollution warnings (see above.).

N95 masks are the best at filtering smoke and other air particles.

“But any mask is good. Cloth is fine, such as the ones we wore at the beginning of the pandemic. Other surgical masks work as well,” Duke’s Vose said.

Can I walk my dog, let my dog outside?

Yes, but with exceptions. You can let your dog or other pet outside to do their business, but avoid exercise outside.

“Today is not the time to take a dog on a hike or on a long neighborhood walk. A short walk to use the bathroom or check the mailbox is fine,” Duke’s Vose said.

Does air conditioning filter my indoor air?

Yes. Air conditioning uses air filters, which are designed to keep particulate matter out of your home.

“Close your windows and run your AC inside your home. Air filters are designed to filter out air particles, and running the AC will force quality air to circulate inside your home,” Duke’s Vose said.

Are outdoor events canceled?

Wake and Durham public school systems are taking precautions for students, spokespeople told The N&O.

  • Wake schools are limiting outdoor activities and rescheduling “intense outdoor activities” to another time. Coaches and teachers have been advised to “watch students for symptoms.”
  • Durham schools are advising staff to “be sensitive to the needs of students and staff with respiratory conditions or other sensitivities.”

The Department of Transportation has not paused construction or maintenance activities, said assistant communications director Aaron Moody.

“Our Safety and Risk Management unit has been actively monitoring this situation and has shared air quality guidance from the Department of Environmental Quality with NCDOT safety staff statewide,” he said.

Kimberly Cataudella (she/her) is a service journalism reporter for The News & Observer.

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