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Be Aware of Smoke in the Air
The Bay Area Air Quality Management District has issued a Health Advisory & Spare the Air Alert through Wednesday, October 18.

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Smoke from the wildfires in the North Bay is causing high levels of air pollution throughout the Bay Area. Due to active wildfires and changing wind patterns, air quality could be impacted for many days to come and will be variable and unpredictable. Air quality may improve at times or get worse, very quickly. 

What can you do?

If you see or smell smoke in your immediate area, stay indoors, if possible, with windows and doors closed and air conditioning units on recirculate to avoid drawing outside air into buildings. 

Those with heart or lung disease, older adults, pregnant women, and children should avoid prolonged or heavy exertion and either move or reschedule outdoor activities. All others should also reduce prolonged or heavy exertion and take breaks during outdoor activity.

It is recommended that parents and school administrators check air quality readings before allowing children outdoors while air quality is unhealthy. 

Click here for real-time air quality readings in your zip code.  For information about the safe cleanup of fire ash, click here. To check the status of the Bay Area’s Spare the Air alerts, click here.

Because of the serious air quality conditions in parts of the Bay Area, residents should avoid adding additional air pollution by curtailing air polluting activities such as wood burning, lawn mowing and leaf blowing, driving, and barbecuing. 

For more information about protecting yourself from wildfire smoke, see the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention webpage about wildfire smoke.

To view the latest health advisory from the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, click here.

To view San Mateo County’s press release on recommendations for protecting yourself from the impacts of smoke, click here.

Frequently Asked Questions

Note: These will be updated as more information becomes available.

Why does it smell like smoke outside? Are there wildfires in San Mateo County? 

There are currently no fires in San Mateo County. Strong wind patterns are blowing smoke from active wildfires in the North Bay Area. Check the Bay Area Air Quality Management District for the latest updates. 

How long will this poor air quality last? 

Due to active wildfires and changing wind patterns, air quality could be impacted for many days to come and will be variable and unpredictable. Air quality may improve at times or get worse, very quickly. Check here for real-time air quality readings

How can I monitor the air quality in my neighborhood? 

For real-time air quality reading, visit the Environmental Protection Agency’s air quality index website: https://go.usa.gov/xnxhb. Sign up for SMC Alerts to be immediately notified of any alert or emergency in San Mateo County at www.smcalert.info

How do I protect myself from the smoke? 

If you see or smell smoke in your immediate area, stay indoors if possible with windows and doors closed and air conditioning units on recirculate to avoid drawing outside air into buildings. Check here for real-time air quality readings

For more information about protecting yourself from wildfire smoke, see the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention webpage about wildfire smoke.

What are the health effects of breathing in smoke?

Breathing in smoke can have immediate health effects, including:

  • Repeated coughing
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Wheezing
  • Chest tightness or pain
  • Palpitations
  • Nausea or unusual fatigue
  • Lightheadedness

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

What else can I do to help “Spare the Air?”  

On these Spare the Air days, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District urges residents to cut back on any activities that cause pollution – such as driving, using oil-based paints, gasoline-powered lawn mowers, wood burning, leaf blowing, barbecuing or using household aerosol products like hair sprays.  People who are sensitive to unhealthy air are advised to limit their time outdoors, particularly in the afternoon hours.

What can I do if I’m experiencing psychological distress? 

During these difficult times people may be experiencing stress and trauma in many ways. Talk with someone you trust. 

If you want more support call the 24/7 bilingual Disaster Distress Helpline 1-800-985-5990. Press 2 for Spanish. You may need to wait on hold, but you will talk to a live person. You can also text message with a counselor: in English Text “TalkToUs” to 66746, in Spanish Text “Hablanos” to 66746.

People who call and text are connected to trained and caring professionals from crisis counseling centers in the network. The Helpline staff provide confidential counseling, referrals, and other support services. 

Can I use air conditioning in my house and car? 

If you can see or smell smoke, be sure to set air conditioning units and car vent systems to re-circulate to keep outside air out. Source: Bay Area Air Quality Management District

Who is most impacted?

Older adults, pregnant women, children, and people with preexisting respiratory and heart conditions may be more likely to get sick if they breathe in wildfire smoke. Contact your healthcare provider if you are experiencing significant symptoms. As always, if you or someone you know is experiencing a life-threatening emergency, call 9-1-1.  Check here for real-time air quality readings. Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

How is the Health System involved? 

The San Mateo County Health System is continuing to serve all of our clients and residents, while also monitoring the changing air quality conditions through the reports provided by the Bay Area Quality Management District. Staff with our Aging and Adult Services have been checking on our most vulnerable, conserved adult and older adult clients to confirm they are staying safe from the smoke. San Mateo Medical Center and Burlingame Long-Term Care staff are also monitoring the health and well-being of people who are hospitalized and in our skilled nursing care.

The Health System has also sent volunteers and is involved in the regional mutual aid response, including mental health workers, ambulances and disaster supplies, assessing our hospital and skilled nursing facility bed availability to support those who have been evacuated, and coordinating on a future need for environmental health staff. 

Should children be allowed outside? 

It is recommended that parents and school administrators check air quality readings before allowing children outdoors while air quality is unhealthy. Check here for real-time air quality readings.  

Are schools closing because of the smoke? Should I keep my child home from school? 

Contact the San Mateo County Office of Education for the latest guidance on school closures and guidance for parents.  View this guidance from the Environmental Protection Agency on Air Quality and Outdoor Activity Guidance for Schools.

If I notice ash in my home, how do I properly clean it up? 

View these tips from the Bay Area Air Quality Management District for how to safely clean fire ash indoors.   

What can I do to help? 

Visit the State website californiavolunteers.org to see how you can support people directly impacted by the North Bay fires.

More questions?

Email info@smchealth.org if you have any other questions and we will get back to you as soon as possible. 

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