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Wildfire Smoke In 2020 Led To More Valley COVID Cases, Deaths, Says New Study

US Forest Service / Inciweb
The SQF Fire burns along 190 near intersection with 216, 1 mile east of Camp Nelson, September 13, 2020.

Last year, the western states were hit with a double-whammy of natural disasters: Not just the COVID-19 pandemic, but also a historically long and intense wildfire season that blanketed the region with plume after plume of noxious smoke.

Credit Francesca Dominici
Francesca Dominici

The confluence of those two was deadly: A study published recently in the peer-reviewed research journal Science Advances estimated that wildfire smoke in 2020 exacerbated the effects of COVID by leading to as many as 20,000 cases and more than 700 deaths in just California, Washington and Oregon. According to county-level data provided to KQED by the researchers, one of the most affected regions was the San Joaquin Valley.

In this interview, KVPR’s Kerry Klein sat down with senior author Francesca Dominici, a biostatistician at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and the co-director of the Harvard Data Science Initiative, to learn more about the study and its implications for public health.

Kerry Klein is an award-winning reporter whose coverage of public health, air pollution, drinking water access and wildfires in the San Joaquin Valley has been featured on NPR, KQED, Science Friday and Kaiser Health News. Her work has earned numerous regional Edward R. Murrow and Golden Mike Awards and has been recognized by the Association of Health Care Journalists and Society of Environmental Journalists. Her podcast Escape From Mammoth Pool was named a podcast “listeners couldn’t get enough of in 2021” by the radio aggregator NPR One.
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