Health hazards converge: L.A. County closes coronavirus testing sites due to unhealthy air quality from fires

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With raging wildfires spewing smoke and ash, the air quality in Los Angeles County was so poor it forced the closure of several coronavirus testing sites Friday.

The lung-damaging smoke choking the air engulfed the region at a time when residents were grappling with COVID-19, a disease that attacks the respiratory system.

The testing sites closed are at Cal State L.A., College of the Canyons in Santa Clarita, East L.A. College in Monterey Park, the Pomona Fairplex, San Gabriel Valley Airport, Montebello Civic Center and Panorama City.

All will stay closed through Sunday, except the sites in Cal State L.A., Santa Clarita and Panorama City, which were only expected to be closed Friday.

Those who had appointments to get tested on those days will get a notification to reschedule their appointment online or by calling 211, county officials said.

Residents can still get tested through their healthcare provider if they’re showing COVID-19 symptoms or if they’ve been exposed to someone with the virus. Same-day appointments are also still available at other county-operated testing sites across L.A. County.

Virus testing efforts in L.A. County were already slowed down by closures during the long Labor Day weekend. So far, 251,024 residents have tested positive for the coronavirus.

L.A. County Department of Health Services officials said they’re monitoring the air quality index and will regularly reassess the opening of the testing sites impacted by the wildfires.

A smoke advisory is in effect through Friday.

“It is difficult to tell where smoke, ash or soot from a fire will go, or how winds will affect the level of these particles in the air, so we ask everyone to remember that smoke and ash can be harmful to health, even for people who are healthy,” L.A. County Health Officer Dr. Muntu Davis said in a statement.

The smoke is coming from two multi-thousand-acre wildfires — the El Dorado Fire in the San Bernardino Mountains and the Bobcat Fire north of Azusa.

And while residents had grown accustomed to taking their activities outdoors to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus, they’re now being urged to stay indoors with windows and doors closed, especially in areas where smoke and ash are visible.

Those living or working in the smoke-laden areas and those with heart disease, asthma or other respiratory diseases should minimize outdoor activities, the health department said.

In Butte County, where wildfires have become deadly and the skies glow a saturated orange, officials issued an emergency measure Thursday allowing restaurants to temporarily reopen for indoor dining, with one assemblyman saying the the poor air quality poses a greater health risk than the threat of catching the coronavirus at a business that’s following infection control measures.

Symptoms from wildfire smoke include burning eyes, runny nose, scratchy throat, headaches and illness like bronchitis. Those with sensitive conditions can experience difficulty breathing, wheezing, coughing, fatigue and chest pain.

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