Air quality levels in northwest Montana are currently unhealthy due to smoke from wildfires in California and across the Pacific Northwest.
Flathead health officials warn of an overlap in symptoms between COVID-19 and wildfire smoke inhalation. Coughing, sore throat, and headaches are all under the range of possible symptoms of a positive COVID-19 case.
These symptoms also fall under the range of too much smoke inhalation from being outside in unhealthy air levels.
Flathead County Deputy Health Officer Kerry Nuckles tells MTN News community residents should play it safe if they’re not feeling well.
“It could really be either, and if you think you’ve been exposed to a person or you’re feeling sick not just when you’re outside but after you come in and you’re in a more filtered air environment, please do consider that it might be COVID-19 and it might be worth talking to your doctor,” said Nuckles.
Nuckles said you can protect yourself from unhealthy wildfire smoke from wearing N95 or N99 masks while outside. She said cloth masks help prevent individuals from exposing someone else to COVID-19, but will not protect you against unhealthy smoke particles in the air.
“If they’re outside and they’re exercising, even if they’re wearing a surgical mask or a cloth mask, that’s not going to filter out the PM2.5 or the particulate that we look at for wildfire smoke,” said Nuckles.
Nuckles expects unhealthy air to remain in the Flathead Valley for the coming days. She encourages Flathead residents to minimize outside physical activity.
“We’re probably going to have a couple days of bad air quality where anyone with respiratory illness, little kids, just minimize your time outside,” said Nuckles.
Nuckles said a stand-alone certified HEPA filter will help with smoke filtration indoors. Up to date air quality levels for the Flathead Valley can be found online at Montana.gov.