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Experts worry more bad air days could bring more hospitalizations

FILE: A poor air quality day makes it hard to see the Capitol building in Salt Lake City, Thursday, Jan. 8, 2015. Photo: Ravell Call, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Air quality was bad along the Wasatch Front, again, Tuesday. The KSL Air Quality Network said it was mostly in the orange range or unhealthy for sensitive groups. 

According to the World Air Quality Index, Salt Lake City was again in the top 10 for worst air quality in the world today and actually jumped from number six earlier in the day to number five by the afternoon. Beating Utah’s capital city are Jakarta, Indonesia; Kabul, Afghanistan; and Lahore, Pakistan. 

Bad air equals possible problems for some Utahns

The pollution is not just an eyesore, it can be problematic for people with respiratory or cardiovascular issues. It can even increase the risk of contracting COVID-19. 

“Heart attacks and strokes increase when the air pollution is bad. [There’s] risk of pneumonia, bronchitis and risk of COVID infection,” said Dr. Denitza Blagev, a pulmonary physician with Intermountain Healthcare. 

But these negative side-effects do not always appear right away. Blagev said there is a lag similar to coronavirus cases, then hospitalizations. It can take several days for an infection to incubate after a bad air day. 

“It can take up to four weeks to see that increase in hospitalizations and emergency department visits,” she said.

On unhealthy days, Blagev urged people, especially on red days, to treat their plans like it’s raining outside. She said we change our outdoor plans because of rain all the time. 

There is some relief on the way

Fortunately, the KSL Weather Center said some incoming storms could help the air quality a bit. There is about a 40% chance of storms Tuesday evening, but that increases to 70% Wednesday.