Colorado doctors suggest certain COVID-19 survivors err on the side of caution when air quality is poor

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DENVER (KDVR) — Doctors say some Colorado coronavirus survivors should be cautious while air quality is poor due to wildfire smoke.

As smoke from several wildfires has spread from mountains to the metro, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment issued an Action Day for ozone and fine particulate concentration.

These days can be common in Colorado summers, and a reminder for sensitive groups that have conditions like asthma to limit exposure outside to prevent exacerbating their condition.

But a new group may need to think twice about going outside during these Action Days: COVID-19 survivors. 

“We’ve seen about 50 patients who have been through COVID and have ongoing pulmonary issues,” said Dr. Sarah Jolley, who directs the Post-COVID Clinic at UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital. 

Pulmonary doctors like Jolley have seen the impacts COVID-19 can have on certain patients’ lungs, including shortness of breath, cough, fatigue and even a post-viral reactive airways disease which is similar to asthma. 

“We know that many of our patients that have recovered from COVID, even people that have been severe enough to require care in the hospital or ICU like months later still having symptoms,” said Dr. Mark Kearns, a pulmonary critical care physician at Denver Health. “Whether that be ongoing shortness of breath, fatigue — (they) just haven’t been able to return back to their normal state of health.”

Doctors have even seen some patients with scarring in their lungs and other complications that could put them at risk during low-air-quality conditions. 

But the bottom line is: every patient is different, and there are still too many unknowns for doctors to say definitively that COVID-19 survivors should avoid going outside during Action Days. 

“Patients who have had COVID, they’re certainly more at risk for having airway sensitivity, and it’s possible that there symptoms may get worse in the setting of poor air quality, but we don’t have enough data to know for sure,” Jolley said.

“We just don’t know how COVID-19 is going to affect your susceptibility to things like smoke or the particulate matter that go along with the with wildfires,” Kearns said.

If you do have complications breathing after recovering from COVID-19, doctors say be aware of Action Days, because it could make those complications worse. During Action Days, they recommend spending time outside in the early mornings or late evenings when it’s cooler, if you have underlying conditions that make it hard to breathe.

The United States Department of Agriculture released a fact sheet about the impacts wildfire smoke can have on coronavirus survivors.

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