PSA: Peer Pressure, California Fires, and Masks
(Wearing masks to protect from the California fires. Please note that I am wearing the mask wrong. You must put the top strap above your ears. Children of a certain size need smaller masks, link below.)
We are in the midst of another smoky week due to the "Camp Fires" in California, about 2.5 hours away from the Bay Area. It is being called the deadliest fire in California's history with 42 people dead so far. Here in the Bay Area the air is hazy, and while you may or may not feel anything when you breathe in, the air is unsafe both outdoors and often indoors.
As I was sending my son to high school today with a mask, we were talking about peer pressure and staying safe/healthy. He goes to a great school so I do not anticipate any issues with wearing a mask, but we talked about peer pressure just in case. We often teach our kids how to avoid peer pressure around drugs, alcohol, and cigarette smoking, but we rarely teach them about daily peer pressures for kids and adults. We talked about how most people are not wearing masks. Even adults who work in the field of pollution and air quality are not wearing masks because they do not want to look "weird."
We tell our kids "just because everyone else is doing it that does not mean you have to do it." We should also let them know that "just because everyone else is not doing it that does not mean that you should not" because that is the kind of peer pressure many of us will get around issues of health, like this one of wearing a mask.
If you would not, or you do not want your kid, chain smoking cigarettes while wearing a fish bowl over your head, then you should not be outside or probably inside without a mask in the Bay Area right now. If the Air Quality Index is above 150 you for should not be without a mask, and if it is 101-150 they say that is unsafe for sensitive people, but since you are literally in that air all day (i.e. fish bowl), we should all have a mask on. Unless you are in a building that has a HEPA filter that filters our small, fine particulates, the air inside is still unsafe.
The air from the fires is not just the usual polluted air (which is bad enough) but it has a high level of small particles that seep into your lungs and bloodstream that may affect us today and years from now. This prolonged exposure to smoke is new for us and we really can not know the long-term effects. And, "Children are especially sensitive to smoke pollution because their airways are still developing and they breathe more air per pound of body weight than adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention." (How to Protect Yourself from Wildfire Smoke.)
In order to check air quality, put the city you will be in into the search on www.purpleair.com. On Purple Air, you can click on the dots and see if the sensor is indoors or outdoors. Please notice that the indoor sensors are still reading about 150 because in the Bay Area most homes do not have air conditioning or HEPA filters and very few business buildings do either. Ask your workplace and schools about filters and wear a mask indoors if they do not have any. You can also check www.airnow.gov but they have streamlined their site and most cities are not listed (check San Francisco and Oakland for the cities closest to us.)
Here is a link to buying the correct “particulate respirator” mask and how to wear them. Remember though that kids need a smaller size, so make sure you research how to know what size mask your child will need. These are hard to find, and the EPA says "Children should not wear these masks – they do not fit properly and can impede breathing. If the air quality is poor enough that a child requires a mask, the child should remain indoors, in a safe place, and evacuation should be considered." Try Cambridge Masks for washable, reusable masks that fits kids and adults.
I work in two industries that focus on health, particularly with "high risk" populations"- the fitness industry where I work a lot with kid and teen athletes, and elder care as a dementia specialist. Even though we know better and we should be role models for protecting health to the best of our ability, we too feel the peer pressure over the simple issue of wearing masks. Peer pressure is no joke!
We don’t want people to be scared and stop doing the things that they love, but we still want people to be safe. As parents, educators, and health care workers, we are examples to our kids of how to live well and protect our health to the best of our ability, so don’t forget to wear your own mask. We can’t expect our kids to do something that we do not do, especially with the peer pressures that they are up against. If you work with elders, we again are the example of how to live well because we are supposed to have the knowledge to help keep people safe. So, don’t feel pressured by your own peers to not wear a mask! If your kids coaches or teachers pressure the kids to go outside without a mask or exercise without a mask, advocate for your young child or teen.
Be an example and use peer support by sharing information and practicing your own health and safety protocols.
Breathe well. Stay Healthy.