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It's a Code Orange air quality day across North Carolina. Here's what you can do to stay safe

 Hazy Charlotte skyline
Central Piedmont Community College
Weather web cam
Haze on the Charlotte skyline from Canadian wildfire smoke.

Smoke pouring south from Canadian wildfires is still smudging the skies with a dull haze Thursday across the Charlotte region. People who are vulnerable to poor air quality — children, people with asthma and other breathing conditions, and the elderly — need to stay aware and take precautions, experts say.

Charlotte hasn't been subject to the conditions witnessed in New York City, where smoke blocked out the sun, blocked buildings and turned the sky orange. But the smoke is still causing poor air quality throughout the region.

Air quality is forecast to stay in the "orange" range through Friday, according to the state's Air Quality Portal, which is a collaboration between the State Climate Office of North Carolina at NC State University and the North Carolina Division of Air Quality.

"Smoky conditions will persist across North Carolina on Thursday, as the upper-level closed low continues to funnel Canadian wildfire smoke down across the eastern US," the group wrote.

Here's what experts say you should do:

  • Limit time outdoors. The state's Department of Environmental Quality notes that vulnerable groups might be particularly harmed by time outdoors. "These groups may experience health impacts when outdoors for prolonged times during these conditions and are recommended to limit prolonged or heavy exertion outdoors," the department says. But others, even healthy adults, should consider changing their plans on Code Orange days. "If it looks smoky outside, it's probably not a good time to mow the lawn or go for a run. And it's probably not a good time for your children to play outdoors."
  • Consider wearing a maskif it's the right kind. The biggest risk is from ultra-fine particles, says Dr. Aaron Levy of Atrium Health. "We're talking about small particles that are fractions of a grain of sand or a diameter of a hair. It's about 1/30 the size of a diameter of the hair. When we're talking about these fine particulate matter," he said. An N-95 mask can help filter those, but a surgical or cloth mask won’t do much good, according to Levy.
  • Follow air quality updates. The poor air quality is expected to improve gradually but persist through Friday. You can see the latest air quality readings, advice for actions to take and more at the state's Air Quality Portal, which is updated regularly.
  • Use an indoor air filter. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "a freestanding indoor air filter with particle removal to help protect people with heart disease, asthma or other respiratory conditions and the elderly and children from the effects of wildfire smoke."
  • Don't add to pollution. Check for local burn bans and limit fires (both outdoors and indoor fireplaces). Consider driving less or not using outdoor power equipment that spews particulate pollution.

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Ely Portillo has worked as a journalist in Charlotte for over a decade. Before joining WFAE, he worked at the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute and the Charlotte Observer.