The COVID-19-wildfire smoke paradox: Reduced risk of all-cause mortality due to wildfire smoke in Colorado during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic

Sheena E. Martenies, Ander Wilson, Lauren Hoskovec, Kirk A. Bol, Tori L. Burket, Laura Jean Podewils, Sheryl Magzamen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Background: In 2020, the American West faced two competing challenges: the COVID-19 pandemic and the worst wildfire season on record. Several studies have investigated the impact of wildfire smoke (WFS) on COVID-19 morbidity and mortality, but little is known about how these two public health challenges impact mortality risk for other causes. Objectives: Using a time-series design, we evaluated how daily risk of mortality due to WFS exposure differed for periods before and during the COVID-19 pandemic. Methods: Our study included daily data for 11 counties in the Front Range region of Colorado (2010–2020). We assessed WFS exposure using data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and used mortality counts from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. We estimated the interaction between WFS and the pandemic (an indicator variable) on mortality risk using generalized additive models adjusted for year, day of week, fine particulate matter, ozone, temperature, and a smoothed term for day of year. Results: WFS impacted the study area on 10% of county-days. We observed a positive association between the presence of WFS and all-cause mortality risk (incidence rate ratio (IRR) = 1.03, 95%CI: 1.01–1.04 for same-day exposures) during the period before the pandemic; however, WFS exposure during the pandemic resulted in decreased risk of all-cause mortality (IRR = 0.90, 95%CI: 0.87–0.93 for same-day exposures). Discussion: We hypothesize that mitigation efforts during the first year of the pandemic, e.g., mask mandates, along with high ambient WFS levels encouraged health behaviors that reduced exposure to WFS and reduced risk of all-cause mortality. Our results suggest a need to examine how associations between WFS and mortality are impacted by pandemic-related factors and that there may be lessons from the pandemic that could be translated into health-protective policies during future wildfire events.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number115591
JournalEnvironmental Research
Volume225
DOIs
StatePublished - May 15 2023

Keywords

  • COVID-19
  • Mortality
  • Wildfire smoke

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Environmental Science
  • Biochemistry

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