Excess of COVID-19 cases and deaths due to fine particulate matter exposure during the 2020 wildfires in the United States


The year 2020 brought unimaginable challenges in public health, with the confluence of the COVID-19 pandemic and wildfires across the western United States. Wildfires produce high levels of fine particulate matter (PM2.5). Recent studies reported that short-term exposure to PM2.5 is associated with increased risk of COVID-19 cases and deaths. We acquired and linked publicly available daily data on PM2.5, the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths, and other confounders for 92 western U.S. counties that were affected by the 2020 wildfires. We estimated the association between short-term exposure to PM2.5 during the wildfires and the epidemiological dynamics of COVID-19 cases and deaths. We adjusted for several time-varying confounding factors (e.g., weather, seasonality, long-term trends, mobility, and population size). We found strong evidence that wildfires amplified the effect of short-term exposure to PM2.5 on COVID-19 cases and deaths, although with substantial heterogeneity across counties.


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