More than 10.3 million acres of land were scorched by wildfires nationwide in 2020. Firefighters battling the harrowing flames often work shifts that exceed 24 hours, and they stay in close quarters in remote locations for weeks at a time, offering a prime opportunity for COVID-19 to spread.
In addition, firefighters in urban areas as well as in wildlands routinely are exposed to smoke, carbon monoxide, toxins from structure fires and other hazards to lung health.
Although there isn’t much data to indicate whether smoke inhalation affects the infection rate or severity of COVID-19 in firefighters, some experts are voicing concerns about lessened lung capacity upon recovery and other health issues.
“There’s definitely the question of whether or not those firefighters who are severely impacted will have trouble regaining lung capacity,” said Luke Montrose, an environmental toxicologist at Boise State University. “They’re already at risk for diseases like camp crud and lung cancer.”