Choked by the deadly wildfires raging across Butte County, air quality in the Bay Area registered at dangerous levels on Friday morning. Schools and city facilities across the Coastside were closed, and public health officials urged residents to remain inside. 

Last Thursday, Northern California had the worst air quality in the world, according to Purple Air, an air-quality monitoring network. 

Monitoring data from the Bay Area Air Quality Management District displayed local air-quality levels ranging from “unhealthy” to “very unhealthy. The district advised that residents should stay inside with windows and doors closed, if possible, until the smoke recedes. 

City facilities in Half Moon Bay, including City Hall and the City Hall Annex, were closed on Friday. The city’s weekly e-newsletter said that City Manager Bob Nisbet, in consultation with Mayor Deborah Penrose, made the decision “out of an abundance of caution and concern for the health of city staff.” 

Cabrillo Unified School District, as well as Wilkinson School and Sea Crest School, was also closed on Friday due to the deteriorating air quality. 

In an email to parents on Thursday night, Superintendent Jane Yuster said that school will resume after the Thanksgiving break on Monday, Nov. 26.

“We were in consultation with the (San Mateo) County Office of Education, the San Mateo County Health Department and the San Mateo County Insurance Group,” she said later. “We were getting a lot of input from a lot of experts.” 

“We don’t close school lightly,” added Yuster. 

Schools in the La Honda-Pescadero Unified School District, however, remained open. Superintendent Amy Wooliever said that district officials had been closely monitoring the air-quality levels during the day on Thursday.

“Our air-quality index measurement is over in Redwood City, so we were also looking at the air here,” she said. “Air here on the South Coast has been clearer than Half Moon Bay, so we were also utilizing some local air-quality monitors that were showing lower rates.” “Based on that, and the fact that we feel that our children are safest at school, we made the decision to stay open,” she added. 

Wooliever emphasized that the district was keeping its students indoors. “We’ve also communicated, with parents and staff, that if they feel it’s necessary to keep their child at home, that will be an excused absence,” she said.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, while not every individual has the same sensitivity to wildfire smoke, a cocktail of gases and particles created when wood and organic materials burn, it still poses serious health concerns.

“These microscopic particles can penetrate deep into your lungs,” the EPA’s website states. “They can cause a range of health problems, from burning eyes and a runny nose to aggravated chronic heart and lung diseases.” 

Children, older adults, and those with heart or lung conditions are particularly vulnerable when air quality plummets.  The EPA also advises that people seeking protection from the smoke should consider N95 respirators or P100 masks. While surgical and paper masks don’t prevent the fine particles in wildfire smoke from entering the lungs, the N95 and P100 masks have filters that can block pollutants smaller than 2.5 micrometers in diameter. 

Steve Anderson, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said that the smoke would continue to shroud the region. But this week’s weather forecast looks like it might offer some rain — and relief. According to the National Weather Service, there’s a 90 percent chance of rain during the day on Wednesday. The forecast also anticipates a “slight chance of showers” in Half Moon Bay on Thanksgiving.  

For continuing air-quality updates, visit  www.baaqmd.gov.

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