WASHINGTON (DC News Now) — DC Homeland Security and Emergency Management declared a Code Purple alert Thursday as a result of smoke from Canadian wildfires.
Code Purple on the Air Quality Index means “all groups should stay indoors as much as possible, Those that must work outside should reduce work outside if possible, and if not, wear a mask (N95 or KN95 equivalent.” according to a release from DC Health.
At least two major school systems in the DMV have canceled outdoor activities Wednesday and Thursday as a precaution.
Doctors say the smoke can be very dangerous and emergency rooms may see an uptick in the coming days after symptoms set in.
For the most part, people walking around the National Mall on Wednesday didn’t seem too concerned.
The U.S. Capitol was covered in a thick haze and the buildings behind the Washington Monument were barely visible on Wednesday afternoon.
“They said it was a red air quality day and if you were old and I’m old we need to wear a mask, so mask,” said Barbara Watanabe.
It’s not just older people and those with underlying conditions taking precautions.
Montgomery County Public Schools and D.C. Public Schools both canceled all outdoor activities Wednesday and Thursday. That includes everything from recess to gym class and athletic practices to competitions.
“In California, correct me, but they do all their sports in the morning before the air gets bad so we’re just dealing with something California’s dealt with for years,” Watanabe said.
Dr. Alex Koo, an emergency physician with MedStar Health says these cancelations are smart, saying the air quality can make things worse for some people.
“Children are definitely at risk for having some breathing condition, breathing issues, as well as the elderly too. So I think it was probably a good idea on that matter,” Koo said.
Some plan to stay inside on Thursday.
“Trying to stay safe because I do have like a small case of asthma or bronchitis,” one D.C. woman said.
But not everyone seemed too concerned on Wednesday.
“No doubt it’s hazy. I don’t smell anything. I’m not coughing. The breeze is blowing,” said Emily Monahan of Columbus, Mississippi.
Koo says even those who are healthy can have problems.
“The best idea is to try and stay indoors as much as possible if you can, in a well-ventilated, aerated area,” Koo said.
Many people are wondering if they should mask up again.
“There is some protection offered by N95 masks, or P100 respirators — those ones that are a little bit more robust that fit well to your face,” Koo said. “I don’t think there’s much evidence to say that a normal mask or like scarves or anything will really protect you that much from the smoke.”
Koo says the best move is to stay inside and use an air purifier if you have one.