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Smoky skies continuing to blanket the Central Coast, creating potential health impacts

Smoky Skies
Smoke lingers over the Nipomo area Tuesday afternoon. (Dave Alley/KEYT)

GROVER BEACH, Calif. -- Smoky skies continue to blanket the entire Central Coast, creating potential health impacts for people outdoors.

"Heaviness in your chest, you're going to have uncontrolled coughing," said ​​​​​Stephen Szabo of Tenet Health Central Coast, describing what people may experience when exposed to smoke. "You may have wheezing, or noisy breathing, where you otherwise. You may have an increased amount of mucus that you're clearing out. These are all indications that your lungs are quite irritated."

The Director of Cardiopulmonary and Respiratory Services added that people who are relatively healthy should only experience temporary irritation.

"Generally, if you are in relatively healthy shape, that will dissipate and that will get back to normal," said Szabo.

He added the smoke is very dangerous to people with conditions, such as asthma or COPD.

"If you do have some underlying pulmonary conditions, you want to keep track of your symptoms, if they continue to escalate, you want to take action by contacting your physician," said Szabo. "If you do have asthma or COPD, try and measure your peak flow rate. You should have one of these devices at home. Regularly measuring your peak flow could give you an indication that your airways are becoming inflamed before feeling any symptoms."

Unhealthy air quality due to ongoing wildfires in other parts of the state has plagued the Central Coast for about a week.

Most regions in San Luis Obispo County earned an "unhealthy" designation by the San Luis Obispo County Air Pollution Control District (APCD) on Tuesday.

On Monday, Morro Bay experienced even worse air quality rating, with a "very unhealthy" designation.

According to the APCD, poor air quality should persist for several more days, through at least Sunday, and likely even longer.

It's a big concern, especially since many businesses are having to operate outdoors due to COVID-19 restrictions.

"The air quality has been pretty poor around here," said Lil' Bits Cafe owner Jason Goetz. "When it first started, the ash was coming down like snow, covering all the vehicles and blowing around in the wind."

The Grover Beach restaurant has several tables outside in a temporary dining area located in the adjacent parking lot.

On Tuesday, business continued, with servers working through the difficult conditions.

"the customers keep coming, and the employees are out here on the frontlines," said Goetz. "I tip my cap to them. They're out here everyday banging it out, just like always."

Szabo said anyone who works outdoors for long periods of time, should be very mindful of the air quality.

"They should know their symptoms," said Szabo. "If they start uncontrolled coughing, shortness of breath, they need to clear from that area. It's really advised if you have to work in that area, you wear something stronger than an N95 mask, maybe an N95 mask if you have access to it. Those masks are designed to filter out very small particulate, .3 microns, which is a lot of what we see in wildfire smoke."

He added the best line of defense is to limit exposure and to remain indoors, but for businesses, like Lil' Bits, business must carry on outdoors.

"What do you do?" said Goetz. "The air quality is bad, you just deal with it, just like every obstacle thrown at you. We've been enjoying serving outside, we just wish we can get these fires under control and get this air quality improved. That would make our jobs a lot easier."

California / Fire / Outdoors / Safe at Home / Safety / San Luis Obispo County

Dave Alley

Dave Alley is a reporter and anchor at KCOY|KEYT|KKFX.

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