Air Quality

Combination of Smoke, COVID-19 Creates Added Challenge in Schools

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The wildfire smoke pouring into the Bay Area creates another challenge at schools: is it better outside with the smoke or indoors where there is a higher risk of spreading COVID-19?

As part of COVID-19 protocol, schools are told to keep windows open to increase ventilation. But with the smoke, it's a fine balance. Fortunately, many districts, such as Dublin Unified, made changes during the pandemic.

"The good thing is, from a COVID standpoint, we’ve upgraded the air filtration systems across the district, so we’re comfortable having the windows closed even with COVID," Dublin Unified School District spokesman Chip Dehnert said.

So, when does the wildfire smoke force changes in schools? The state put out guidelines in 2019 saying when the air quality index hits level four, meaning the AQI is between 150 and 200, all activities should be moved indoors as much as reasonably possible.

The next level, which is described as very unhealthy, can actually trigger school closures.

"We know for COVID, it is better to be outdoors," said Dr. Tina Sindher, a Stanford clinical associate professor. "It’s better to have good air circulation, which is the opposite of what we want when the air quality is worse outside."

Sindher suggests anything above 100 on the air quality index is cause for concern in healthy school children.

"That’s where I would say where we have control is choices that are voluntary where you don’t have to be outside for an activity, keeping them indoors if possible," she said.

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