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Poor air quality not going anywhere, anytime soon

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As seen in this photo taken last week, air quality in Kern County has been unhealthy for sensitive groups.

The hazy horizon over much of Kern County likely won’t be going anywhere anytime soon, according to the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District.

Jessica Olsen, program manager for the district, said there's the potential for a high pressure front to help “raise the cap” on smoke over the Central Valley on Wednesday or Thursday. However, that will only be a temporary reprieve before more smoke will likely take its place from the northwest, she said.

“I would love for our forecast to be better news,” Olsen said. “The lifting of the cap might help the firefighters (battling fires near the Bay Area). If the fires are still burning, (the smoke) could be here for the foreseeable future.”

Olsen estimates the smoke will hang around Kern County for at least another week, if not longer.

Both her and Heather Heinks, the district’s outreach and communications manager, said they'd never seen this level of smoke have the impact on the high number of air quality monitors and counties for this long.

“We may be in for a small break and then back to similar air quality values,” Heinks said. “The big issue is that we live in a bowl and wind comes from the northwest from the ocean. With the major complex fires in that area, smoke is just going to keep getting carried across the valley.”

As of Monday, both fires near the Bay Area that are about 350,000 acres each in size — the LNU and the SCU lightning complex fires — continued to rage on with less than 25 percent containment on each.

With prolonged poor air quality exposure plaguing the Central Valley and a large portion of the state, health concerns have been at the forefront people’s minds.

“At this point, we tell everyone — no matter if you’re healthy or have underlying health issues — get yourself into a cool indoor filtered environment,” Olsen said. “Of course if you have other underlying health issues, don’t go outside but it's everyone that should be staying indoors.

“(The smoke) can irritate your lungs, worsen any respiratory issues and cause headaches.”

In a news release Monday, the Asthma Coalition of Kern County shared health and safety tips pertaining to wildfire smoke. The coalition said the smoke and ash can be triggers for asthma attacks, aggravate chronic bronchitis and increase the risk of heart attacks and strokes.

“Individuals with heart or lung disease should follow their doctors’ advice for dealing with episodes of (particulate matter) exposure,” the coalition said.

For those who struggle with asthma, the coalition recommended taking steps to cope with stress and anxiety, having a 30-day supply of non-prescription medications and supplies, disinfecting and cleaning surfaces regularly and following an asthma action plan.

Fortunately, area hospitals haven't reported increases of patients in emergency rooms for respiratory-related issues stemming from the poor air quality.

“There’s been no real uptick,” said Laura Sabedra, manager of marketing and communications at Bakersfield Heart Hospital. “Our emergency department is full serviced and I know we can answer any inquiries through our website or through Facebook.”

Last week, Michelle Corson, spokeswoman for the Kern County Public Health Services Department, said that everyone should be aware of the health impacts smoke can have. She underscored that “vulnerable residents” which includes children, pregnant women, older adults and those with existing lung or heart conditions, are even more susceptible.

Olsen and Heinks emphasized that despite air quality getting slightly better locally, it is still “really bad.”

“Friday and Saturday were the worst,” Olsen said. “It has gotten a little better, but it’s still the highest we’ve ever seen. I don’t want people to let their guard down.”

Residents can see current air quality conditions online at www.valleyair.org/myraan/ and can also check out a variety of resources regarding the current wildfires at valleyair.org/wildfires/.

Coronavirus Cases widget

  • Positive Cases Among Kern Residents: 158,270

  • Deaths: 1,828

  • Recovered and Presumed Recovered Residents: 150,950 

  • Percentage of all cases that are unvaccinated: 92.04

  • Percentage of all hospitalizations that are unvaccinated: 92.62 Updated: 12/3/2021.

  • Source: Kern County Public Health Services Department