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Air Quality and Schools

NOTE: Athletic cancellations and changes will be posted at the bottom of this article.

July 29, 2019

Fire season is underway along with intermittent poor air quality in Southern Oregon. Safety is an ongoing priority in the Medford School District and the following are efforts to mitigate risk to students and staff.

What guidelines do you follow during wildfire events?

We use the Oregon Health Authority’s Public Health Guidance for School Outdoor Activities During Wildfire Events to guide our decision making. Click the link above to view and download it here.

Where can I find more information about fires and smoke in Southern Oregon?

We regularly check into the Department of Environmental Quality’s Air Quality pages. We also like these FAQ’s from the Department of Environmental Quality about how to read the Air Quality Index. The Oregon Smoke Blog is another good resource.

How is the Medford School District monitoring outdoor air quality?

District staff will be monitoring DEQ’s Air Quality Index readings every morning that school or school-sponsored activities are in session. If the 24-HR outside Air Quality Index at the DEQ Medford Station registers as Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups, Unhealthy or Very Unhealthy/Hazardous, building administrators will be contacted via email. If readings register as Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups, Unhealthy or Very Unhealthy/Hazardous, administrators will use the Oregon Health Authority's Public Health Guidance for School Outdoor Activities During Wildfire Events guidelines to make decisions about outdoor recess, PE, and athletics/outdoor activities. 

If the air quality is “unhealthy for sensitive groups,” "unhealthy" or "very unhealthy/hazardous" per DEQ's 24-hour reading, the MSD will keep activities indoors wherever and whenever possible. School staff will closely monitor all students and look for any signs of sensitivity to smoke. We encourage families to let us know if students are having health issues associated with the smoke or have lung or cardiac sensitivities. 

Schools will make every effort to communicate any changes to planned outdoor activities in a timely manner.  

What is happening inside Medford School District schools?

Our maintenance team is working to keep as much smoke as possible out of buildings. It's important to keep windows and doors closed to support these efforts. Maintenance crew members have also replaced all air filters in our facilities, so we are going into the school year with new filters. NOTE: MSD buildings do have air-conditioning.

What if my child has to walk to school?

The OHA offers this information on effects from smoke exposure: “Most healthy adults and children will recover quickly from smoke exposure and will not suffer long-term health consequences. Exposures to carcinogens found in wildfire smoke over short periods (days to weeks) are small relative to total lifetime exposures in more common combustion sources.” If you are concerned about your child’s health, please contact your healthcare provider.

What about masks?

The Oregon Health Authority (OHA) does not recommend children wear masks for smoke protection because they are not designed to fit children. OHA offers the following information on mask use for adults: “Surgical-type masks are typically relatively loose-fitting and are not designed to capture a large percentage of small particles; therefore, they are insufficient to protect against inhalation of particles generated by wildfires… In general, we feel that N95s respirators only offer protection if properly fit tested and worn correctly, so we are not recommending their use for the general population.” See helpful documentation from OHA on wildfire and your health here.

What’s the latest on Athletics?

The Oregon Sports Activities Association (OSAA) issued guidelines for athletics and activities. Read them here. The guidelines suggest districts not practice outside until the air quality is in yellow or moderate. Schools will be following the OSAA Guidelines and Medford District safety directives.

Watch for symptoms

Wildfire smoke can make asthma symptoms worse. It can trigger asthma attacks. Symptoms of asthma include coughing, shortness of breath, wheezing and chest tightness. Even students without known asthma can have symptoms when exposed to unhealthy levels of wildfire smoke pollution.

Students with asthma should follow their Asthma Action Plan. Athletes with asthma should have rescue inhalers readily available. Use should be as directed by their health care provider. Anyone experiencing symptoms should contact a healthcare provider. Call 911 in an emergency.

Information about Athletics

Our high school athletic directors, activities directors, coaches and support staff are communicating with families with students participating in OSAA activities regarding these health guidelines. Coaches will notify families if any changes are made to games or practice times and schedules. Decisions regarding games will be made daily as necessary. The safety of our students is of utmost concern.

OSAA/OHA Air Quality Memo

More information

  • For more information on how wildfire can affect your health, see the Oregon Public Health website
  • Consult with your local health authority if you have questions about air pollution and health.