Ahead of a wildfire season in which experts say the presence of smoke would likely increase the death rate from COVID-19, British Columbia is considering purchasing air purification systems for people who require support for cleaner air in wildfire-affected communities.
The Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General has posted a bid request for information on the cost of buying air purifiers with high-efficiency particulate air or HEPA filters which can cover approximately 200 to 400 square feet, the size of a small room.
Wildfire smoke is a complex and dynamic mix of gases and very small particles that can irritate the respiratory system and cause systemic inflammation, states the RFI, and there may be times when individuals need assistance with “cleaner air for relief against wildfire smoke, either in their own home or in shelters.”
The head of respiratory medicine at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver says the novel coronavirus risk to vulnerable populations is heightened during wildfire season, and the elderly and those living with chronic respiratory or heart disease and high blood pressure are most likely to be adversely impacted.
“We now know that wildfires and other types of smoke, when inhaled, increases the risk of not only getting COVID-19, but getting very severe forms of COVID-19 that leads to ICU admissions and even death,” respirologist Dr. Don Sin told Global News.
Lung disease expert and professor Dr. Christopher Carlsten says elevated air pollution doubled the risk of death during the 2003 SARS outbreak, an epidemic which the head of respiratory medicine at UBC believes was likely the closest thing we’ve experienced to COVID-19.
“The virus is very similar, different but very similar and certainly similar enough that we have the same concerns,” Carlsten told Global News.
Carlsten says air purifiers can remove dangerous particles from reasonably sized rooms and are not very expensive.
“It’s taxpayer money obviously, but I think it’s a very good investment given how effective they are, especially during a limited season such as we’re predicting.”
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Sin agrees it’s important to be proactive and says good air purifiers can improve indoor air quality in areas affected by heavy smoke.
“When the air quality is extremely poor with a lot of particulate matter, having an air purifier at home will cleanse the air, will filter out all the particulate stuff up to 99.9 per cent,” he said.
If the HEPA filters which trap the nastiest particles are changed periodically, Sin says the air will be extremely clean.
Suppliers of air purification systems can submit their responses to Emergency Management BC (EMBC). The RFI closes June 9.
-With files from Simon Little