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If it’s August it must be smoke season

As COVID rampages through our community, Southern Oregonians are also faced with poor air quality. Good thing our buildings remain safe.

As our skies continue to be filled with a familiar summer haze, concerns about air quality continue to climb. The smoke from wildfires has at times reached harmful levels in Medford, Ashland and Grants Pass, but Asante hospitals remain some of the area’s safest buildings due to highly efficient air-filtration systems.

Some employees have asked to wear N95 respirator masks — used typically for infection prevention and as protection from hazardous materials — as a precaution while indoors. This is unnecessary, and unless the employee has been fit-tested and trained on an N95, wearing one while at work is an OSHA violation.

“The environment inside our facilities is safe, and there is no need to wear a respiratory mask in the course of regular duties,” said Debra Flickinger, Asante employee safety manager.

Patients may ask employees for surgical masks to protect them from the smoke outdoors. The Oregon Health Authority cautions that these loose-fitting masks don’t capture small particles containing benzene, cyanide, carbon monoxide and other respiratory irritants produced by wildfire smoke. Neither does breathing through a wet cloth or bandana.

The best protection outdoors is an N95 respirator, provided they’re purchased from a source who is trained to help select the right size, test the seal and provide instruction on use. The CDC offers more details on respiratory protection.

For patients who have concerns about the effects of breathing smoke, the Oregon Health Authority has issued some clinical guidelines. Patients are advised to:

  • Stay indoors with the windows closed.
  • Avoid vigorous activity outdoors. Exercise requires 20 times more air intake than resting.
  • Roll up car windows and use the “re-circulate” setting for air conditioning.
  • People with reactive airways disease should watch for symptoms of exacerbations and take prescribed medication. If their condition worsens, they should seek medical care.
  • Likewise, children with asthma, adults with heart disease or those with sensitive medical conditions should consider relocating out of smoky areas, if possible.

You can get the most current information on local air conditions on the blog Oregon Smoke. For question about Asante safety, contact Debra Flickinger.

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An open letter to our incredible clinicians
N95 masks are required for some jobs — get yours fit-tested

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