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Listen: Fires Outside, Virus Inside

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Listen: Fires Outside, Virus Inside

While in California, Katherine Wells has been wearing two masks—one for the coronavirus, and one for the wildfire smoke—but she isn’t sure how to interpret the air quality warnings. James Hamblin, her co-host on the podcast Social Distance , wants to know how air pollution like smoke interacts with COVID-19.

They called John Balmes, a pulmonologist who’s studied inhaled pollutants for decades and serves as the physician member of the California Air Resources Board. Listen to their conversation here:

Subscribe to Social Distance on Apple Podcasts , Spotify , or another podcast platform to receive new episodes as soon as they’re published.

Here is a transcript of their conversation, edited and condensed for clarity:

Katherine Wells: I know there have been summers with some of these elements before, but is this surprising to you?

John Balmes: Well, yes and no. It’s certainly the worst air quality I’ve experienced since I moved to the Bay Area in 1986. But it doesn’t really surprise me. This wildfire season was predicted to be particularly bad because of the drought we had. And it was predicted to be hot and dry this summer. What was unexpected were the lightning strikes.

Wells: Last week, that orange day , was surreal. What was your experience of that as a person living there? Balmes: Well, you know, I’m a big Tolkien fan so it seemed like Mordor that day. The sun looked like the Evil Eye of Sauron. The air quality wasn’t even that bad that day though, because that light was [created by] the smoke plume up high blocking out the sun. We had heavy fog […]

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