This page includes information to help you track air quality and prepare your children and family for when air quality is not good.

AQI scale graphic

Responding to Wildfires During COVID-19

Wildfire smoke can irritate your lungs, cause inflammation, affect your immune system, and make you more prone to lung infections, including SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, preparing for wildfires might be a little different this year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has compiled resources to prepare for and respond to wildfires and smoke during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Keep Track of Air Quality

The Bay Area Air Quality Management District website (BAAQMD) has local information and projections.

EPA’s AirNow webpage reports air quality using the Air Quality Index (AQI). The AQI tells the public how clean or polluted the air is using standard descriptors. Here are links to pages covering San Mateo County:

The County Office of Education and the San Mateo County Health Department use these official BAAQMD and AirNow sites to track data because they rely on professional quality monitors that are regularly maintained, independently audited, and have high standards for quality assurance and quality control.

Adjust Activity Based on Air Quality

Stay indoors and reduce outdoor activity based upon your area's Air Quality Index. When air quality improves, even temporarily, "air out" buildings and homes to reduce air pollution. Further guidance, recommendations, and information for schools and families can be found below.

Air Quality and Outdoor Activity Guidance for Students

This Air Quality Flag Program page page from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) provides flags for all of the EPA Air Quality levels as well as information on the types of outdoor activity and exposure that are appropriate for each level. While these resources are aimed at schools, they provide helpful information on activities that are appropriate for each air quality level.

School Air Quality Activity Recommendations

This School Air Quality Activity Recommendations document, developed with content from the California Department of Education, is geared toward schools. However, it provides families with insight into how schools might address differing levels of air quality.

Sensitive Groups

Children with certain medical conditions may be impacted by air quality in the moderate (yellow – 51-100) and unhealthy for sensitive groups (orange – 101-150) levels. Parents/guardians of these children should notify their schools.

School Response

When air quality dips to very unhealthy levels (purple – 201-300), many schools in San Mateo County will practice the Shelter in Place protocol, which includes keeping all activities indoors, limiting physical activity, and minimizing the opening and closing of doors. Regular classroom instruction continues during Shelter in Place.

The Coalition for Safe Schools and Communities believes that schools are the best place for students to be when air quality is poor as they are well-supervised, can be kept indoors, and are able to continue to learn. However, if air quality becomes hazardous (maroon – 301-500) and schools do not have the ability to keep outdoor air from easily entering the school, then a school may decide to close. Schools make this decision based on their own local factors.

To learn more about the Coalition for Safe Schools and Communities’ recommendations for preparing for unhealthy air quality, see page 14 of its Hazards Responses guidance and pages 10-11 of its Facilities Report.