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DEQ extends C.O. air quality alert to Saturday AM; ‘public health emergency’ declared

C.O. air quality E Space 916
Improvement seen in Wednesday's midday air quality readings

(Update: Federal 'public health emergency' declared due to wildfire smoke)

High Desert improves from 'hazardous' readings of past several days

PORTLAND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, Lane Regional Air Protection Agency and the Southwest Washington Clean Air Agency updated an air quality advisory Wednesday for Oregon and Southwest Washington due to smoke from fires in Oregon, Washington and California.

** Información en español **

At midday Wednesday, the E::Space air quality sensors in Central Oregon featured on KTVZ's Local Alert Weather page showed much of the region had improved air quality, dropping from hazardous or very unhealthy to only unhealthy or unhealthy for sensitive groups.

Meanwhile, Oregon's congressional delegation said Wednesday that federal officials have granted their request to declare a "public health emergency" in the state due to the thick, choking wildfire smoke of recent days (news release below).

DEQ has lifted the air quality advisory for the Oregon Coast. The coast should stay clear through the weekend.

Health officials encourage people to open up windows and begin clearing out their indoor air once smoke levels have dropped into moderate (yellow) and good (green) categories.

Updated air advisories cover:
• Western Oregon, Southwest Oregon and Southwest Washington, including the Portland-Vancouver metro area, Willamette Valley, Medford area, and Klamath Falls area. The advisory remains in place through end of Thursday and those areas should see clearing by Friday morning. Active wildfires may continue to produce smoke impacts for nearby areas.
• Columbia River Gorge and Central Oregon. The advisory has been extended through Saturday morning. The area should clear by Saturday morning. Active wildfires may continue to produce smoke impacts for nearby areas. Fires can be unpredictable, so DEQ and its partner agencies will continue to monitor air quality.
• Northeast Oregon. The advisory has been extended through Saturday evening. The smoke should clear by Saturday evening.
• Southeast Oregon. The advisory has been extended through Monday. The region may continue to see smoke from California fires until next week.

Smoke levels have recently fluctuated between unhealthy (red) and hazardous (maroon) for Oregon and Southwest Washington. When smoke levels are hazardous, everyone needs to take steps to protect themselves.

Health officials encourage people to open up windows and begin clearing out their indoor air once smoke levels have dropped into moderate (yellow) and good (green) categories.

Emergency managers are discouraging travel to lessen the spread of COVID-19 while allowing firefighters and other emergency crews to remain focused on wildfire. Relief from wildfire smoke should be coming soon to all parts of Oregon.

Smoke levels can change rapidly depending on weather. Check current conditions by visiting the Oregon Smoke Information Blog , downloading the free OregonAIR app on your smartphone, or going to on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Air Now .

Smoke can irritate the eyes and lungs and worsen some medical conditions. Young children, adults over 65, pregnant women and people with heart disease, asthma or other respiratory conditions are most at risk.

Protect your health when smoke levels are high:
• Avoid outdoor activities and stay inside if possible. Keep windows and doors closed.
• Be aware of smoke in your area and avoid places with the highest levels.
• Use high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters. These can be portable filters or can be installed in indoor heating, ventilation, cooling and air purification systems. You can also create your own air purifying filter by following these easy to follow DIY air filter instructions .
• Check with your local health department or this 211 list to see if they have community clean air shelters set up where people can get temporary relief from the smoke.
• If you have heart or lung disease or asthma, follow your healthcare provider’s advice.
• Consider leaving the area if smoke levels are hazardous and you have heart disease, asthma or other respiratory conditions. If you choose to leave the area, remember to take face coverings and hand sanitizer with you to help protect yourself and others from COVID-19.

Cloth, dust and surgical masks don’t protect from the harmful particles in smoke. N95 respirators that are tested to ensure proper fit and that are worn correctly may provide protection. Otherwise, they might just provide a false sense of security. They are not available in children’s sizes and are not recommended for strenuous activities. N95 respirators are in limited supply due to COVID-19. Additional information on wildfire smoke and COVID-19 can be found on the Centers for Disease Control webpage .

DEQ’s color-coded Air Quality Index provides current air quality conditions and ranks air quality as follows: Green is good. Yellow is moderate. Orange is unhealthy for sensitive groups such as children, seniors, pregnant women and those with respiratory conditions. Red is unhealthy for everyone. Purple is very unhealthy for everyone. Maroon is hazardous.

Find more information: Oregon Smoke Blog

Several highways and roads are closed around Oregon. Check TripCheck for the latest information.

The Oregon Health Authority asks the public to refill prescriptions at pharmacies and not to go to emergency rooms to refill them. They also advise that you refill them as early as you can and, when possible, keep extra on hand.

Oregon Delegation Announces Federal Public Health Emergency for Oregon as Smoke Continues to Blanket State

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Oregon’s U.S. Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden, along with U.S. Representatives Peter DeFazio, Earl Blumenauer, Greg Walden, Kurt Schrader, and Suzanne Bonamici, today announced that U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar has granted the delegation’s request for a public health emergency declaration for the state of Oregon.

The public health emergency comes as smoke from unprecedented wildfires continues to blanket the state, and most of Oregon is suffering from hazardous air quality.  Portland’s air has ranked worst in the world among large cities in recent days.

“Oregon was already facing one major public health emergency, with a once-in-a-century pandemic. Now, deadly fires and hazardous air are compounding the public health dangers our communities face,” said Merkley. “We need as much federal support and assistance as we can get to weather this storm and help Oregonians stay healthy and safe during this double crisis. This declaration will help get housing supports to people in need, target response to families particularly vulnerable to this health emergency, and make sure our communities get through this disaster as safely as possible.”

“Oregonians choking on smoke and facing the massive challenge of unprecedented wildfires in the middle of a devastating pandemic fully realize the state faces a public health emergency,” Wyden said. “I know from the devastation I saw throughout Oregon last weekend that while much work remains to be done for an overall response to this disaster, today’s announcement is both welcome and timely.”

“The hazardous air conditions in Oregon are threatening the health of Oregonians across the state, while the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has shut down indoor spaces that have been used for respite from wildfire smoke in years past,” said Representative Peter DeFazio. “I’m grateful to HHS for their quick action in granting the Public Health Emergency request to give our state greater flexibility to address the healthcare needs of Oregonians during this difficult time.”

“I am thankful to Secretary Azar for rapidly approving the public health emergency related to the wildfires in Oregon. This quick approval means that we have the resources to continue to fight COVID-19 while also having the additional resources to respond to the devastating fires. I am grateful that Oregon is continuing to receive the support from the Trump Administration to begin the recovery in Southern Oregon,” said Representative Walden.

“Oregon currently has the worst air quality in the entire world,” said Representative Schrader. “Smoke from the West Coast fires has traveled to the East Coast and to parts of Europe. Even Oregonians who have not been displaced by the fires, are facing serious health consequences all while battling a global health pandemic. This much needed public health declaration will help get resources to those who need it most and help get supplies to Oregon hospitals.”

 “Smoke is making it hazardous to breathe in Oregon – a threat that is severely compounded by the pandemic,” said Representative Suzanne Bonamici. “I'm concerned about the long-term effects of smoke inhalation and other health challenges for our vulnerable communities. I'm encouraged that the Department of Health and Human Services quickly granted our request so we can protect the health of Oregonians at this critical time.”

Merkley, Wyden, DeFazio, Blumenauer, Walden, Schrader and Bonamici had urged Secretary Azar on Monday to grant the declaration. In their request, the delegation noted that smoke can make individuals more susceptible to respiratory diseases—including the coronavirus—and that the pandemic had closed indoor locations that had been used to shelter Oregonians from hazardous smoke in the past.

With the Public Health Emergency, among other resources, Oregon is receiving:

·              An Incident Management Team (IMT) and regional emergency coordinators who will coordinate with state and local health authorities and emergency response officials, medical personnel, and oversee equipment deployment in response to the state’s request;

·              The activation of the National Disaster Medical System, which will provide technical assistance to state officials, and members from the Urban Search and Rescue Teams, the Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Team, and the Victim Information Center; and

·              Valuable data and tools to support counties’ emergency response, including the number of Medicare beneficiaries who rely on electricity dependent medical equipment—such as dialysis and home oxygen—to help anticipate, plan for, and respond to the needs of at-risk populations.

Article Topic Follows: Fire Alert

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