Cars make their way across US 2 between Lake Stevens and Everett as wildfire smoke makes downtown Everett barely visible on Friday, Sept. 11, 2020. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Cars make their way across US 2 between Lake Stevens and Everett as wildfire smoke makes downtown Everett barely visible on Friday, Sept. 11, 2020. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Two simultaneous health crises: Wildfire smoke, coronavirus

The smoke will linger this week. And the unhealthy air can bring symptoms easily mistaken for COVID-19.

EVERETT — Unhealthy, smoky air is expected to linger over Western Washington, including Snohomish County, until at least Thursday night or Friday, according to the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency.

Light rain showers in the region are not significantly reducing smoke levels, the agency said. And conditions might get worse Wednesday, when winds are expected to bring more smoke from Oregon fires.

“The best way to protect you and your family through this smoke season will be to stay indoors and keep indoor air as clean as possible,” Dr. Chris Spitters, the county’s top health officer, told reporters Tuesday.

Exposure to the smoke is most harmful for those with underlying heart or lung conditions, he said. The unhealthy air can also make you more vulnerable to catching the coronavirus or worsen symptoms for those currently or previously infected.

On Friday, the county converted its Carnegie Resource Center in Everett to a 24-hour smoke shelter for people experiencing homelessness because “it became clear that the air quality in Everett would be degrading to very unsafe levels,” Mary Jane Brell Vujovic, the county’s director for Human Services, said in an email.

The shelter has room for 44 people and will remain open for at least the rest of the week, county Executive Dave Somers told reporters Tuesday.

For most, exposure to unhealthy air can cause a runny nose, sore throat, chest tightness, cough or wheezing — which are also symptoms of COVID-19.

If you experience any of those symptoms, stay away from others as a precaution. If symptoms last longer than a day or two, or you develop a fever, aches or fatigue, seek testing.

“Overall, the smoke symptoms are going to be limited to the airways,” Spitters said.

Additionally, the smoke has complicated some aspects of fighting the virus.

Last week, the health district shut down test sites at Everett Memorial Stadium and the Lynnwood Food Bank because of the poor air quality.

Both are still closed.

“We’re going to have to take it one day at a time,” Spitters said.

For up-to-date information on the state’s air quality, visit

As the new health emergency persists, another is improving, at least locally.

Many COVID-19 metrics are continuing to trend in the right direction for Snohomish County, according to a weekly report from the Snohomish Health District.

New cases, test positivity and hospitalizations are all down, while contact tracing is up.

That’s good news. A month ago, the county was reporting infection rates previously seen during the spring.

However, it’s still too early to tell if Labor Day celebrations have led to new infections, which occurred after previous holiday weekends.

Statewide, Washington passed 2,000 virus deaths this week, and health leaders are worried cases may be on the rise again. In Snohomish County, at least 208 people have died from COVID.

“We mourn every single one of those lives,” Gov. Jay Inslee told reporters Tuesday. “Those families are in our hearts and will be in the months to come. This has been a year of tragedy for so many people in our state.”

Until a vaccine is available, there will likely be continued waves of COVID, Spitters said.

So wear a mask, distance yourself from others in public and keep social gatherings small, he added.

Throughout the county, fire departments will soon distribute 150,000 free cloth masks to residents.

Contact your local fire department for more information.

In Everett, residents can email Rachael Doniger at

Joey Thompson: 425-339-3449; Twitter: @byjoeythompson.

Wildfires town hall

Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz and four area lawmakers will hold a telephone town hall at 6 p.m. Wednesday to discuss wildfires and their impacts in Snohomish County.

Residents can listen by calling 360-358-7125. To ask a question, press the star (*) key on the phone.

Franz will be joined on the one-hour call by state Sen. June Robinson of Everett, Rep. John Lovick of Mill Creek and Reps. Mike Sells and Emily Wicks, both of Everett.

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