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Prepare for Bad Air: Protect Yourself When the Air Becomes Unhealthy

By Julie Langston and Sarah Allen-Sutter

Today, our luck with clear, non-smoky air finally ran dry. Wildfire seasons have been lasting longer each year, and the the start of fall tends to bring along poorer air quality as well. That is why it is essential to be knowledgeable and prepared for when the air quality decreases, due to smoke, heat, and dust. Read on to learn how to tell when air quality is unhealthy and what to do to protect your health in these situations.

Check the Air Quality Index

Check the daily air quality at or download apps such as Purple Air, AirVisual, AirNow or Air Quality. The air quality will be measured on a scale called the Air Quality Index, which can be viewed below. Sensitive groups, such as people with heart and lung conditions, older adults, children, and pregnant women, should take extra care to avoid prolonged exposure to unhealthy air, particularly if the AQI reaches 101 or above (Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups).

Protect Yourself When Air Quality is Poor:

Reduce Outdoor Activity

  • Lessen the amount of time spent outdoors and stay indoors with filtered air. If you cannot get indoors, reach out for community shelters:

  • Listen to your body. Call 911 if you experience shortness of breath or difficulty breathing; feel faint; cannot stand, walk or move as you normally can; or feel you are having adverse health symptoms.

  • People with heart & lung conditions, older adults, children, and pregnant women are at increased risk. When in doubt, take precautions to protect yourself.

  • Wear a respirator such as a mask with an N, R or, P along with 95, 99 or 100 (e.g., N95). A well fitting mask can prevent harmful particles from getting into your lungs. Cloth mask cannot catch these small particles and so are not as protective.

Improve indoor air quality

  • Use a freestanding HEPA air purifier.

  • Keep windows and doors closed.

  • Run your air conditioner with a proper filter (MERV 13 filter or higher).



  1. Stay hydrated: Drink plenty of water.

  2. Stay indoors: Decrease time outside, especially strenuous activities such as bicycling or outdoor exercise.

  3. Close windows & doors and use a HEPA air purifier or Air Conditioner with MERV 13 filter.

  4. Listen to your body: Call 911 if you are feel unwell.

  5. Wear a NIOSH N-95 mask: Make sure it’s well fitting over your nose and mouth.


YHAA Emergency Preparedness - Yolo Resources

Know Your Zone –

Cooling Centers – Yolo Places to Cool Down


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