During Dual Crises of COVID-19 and Wildfire Smoke, City and County Partner to Open New Healthy Air Center in SoDo for People Experiencing Homelessness

Seattle Parks, Boat Ramps, Fields, and Beaches Will Be Closed Through Sunday

City of Seattle Will Keep Four COVID-19 Test Sites Open Unless Air Quality Reaches Hazardous Levels

SEATTLE (September 11, 2020) – Seattle Mayor Jenny A. Durkan and King County Executive Dow Constantine announced the opening of a new healthy air center in SoDo for people experiencing homelessness during the wildfire smoke this weekend. The SoDo site will open this afternoon and will provide approximately 80 people with healthy air and shelter. Over the last day, new forecasts show shifting wind patterns that are causing some of the dense smoke produced by the wildfires in Oregon and California to move into Western Washington, creating unhealthy to very unhealthy air quality in the Puget Sound Region that is expected to last for the next several days. You can follow updates to impacted City services here.

Traditionally, the region’s smoke and unhealthy air quality response has relied on people minimizing time outdoors and informing people of available facilities that have air filtration. Public Health – Seattle & King County advises that facilities should meet air filtration guidance and guidance from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention to reduce risk of COVID-19 transmission including social distancing and other health and hygiene measures.

“The simultaneous public health threats caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and wildfire smoke force all of us to make difficult decisions to minimize harm to our most vulnerable communities,” said Mayor Durkan. “We know that indoor gathering – even with the proper precautions – increases a person’s likelihood of catching or spreading the virus. However, the threat of unhealthy air quality has become so great that we are taking additional actions as a City, including closing our parks and standing up an additional emergency shelter for people experiencing homelessness. I am grateful to our partners at King County and the Salvation Army for their partnership, and I implore all those who are able to stay indoors and stay safe.”

“Since the first days of the COVID emergency, we have worked to protect the health and safety of our residents, particularly those who are living every day without the security of a home,” said Executive Constantine. “With yet another threat to the health of our community looming, we are acting today to temporarily repurpose one of our COVID recovery centers to serve as an emergency shelter for people experiencing homelessness who need relief from the dangerous wildfire smoke. We thank the Salvation Army and City of Seattle for joining us in this effort.”

“Smoke in the ‘unhealthy for all’ range poses a health risk that is greatest for people with underlying health conditions including heart and lung disease, asthma and diabetes and for older adults, people experiencing homelessness, children and pregnant women. Moving into an indoor space reduces the health risk from smoke but indoor spaces carry more risk from COVID-19 than living outdoors,” said Dr. Jeff Duchin, Health Officer, Public Health – Seattle & King County.

“For that reason, we are using a space with air handling intended for a COVID-19 isolation facility and implementing all the CDC recommendations for preventing COVID-19 transmission in cleaner air shelters and will monitor the health of the occupants. This is intended to be a short-term strategy,” said Dr. Duchin.

The SoDo site is located at 1045 6th Ave. S, and will operate 24 hours each day. The facility will open at 3 p.m. today, and will remain open until Monday morning. The facility is a County-leased facility, and staffing will be coordinated by the City of Seattle through partners at the Salvation Army. The facility has capacity to shelter approximately 80 people. The Navigation Team will be conducting outreach today to refer individuals to this shelter, and is partnering with ride sharing services to transport people to the shelter. King County Metro will assist with transportation as necessary. The shelter will provide face coverings to staff and guests at the emergency shelter, and nursing stations and no-touch hand washing stations are available throughout the facility. The Seattle Human Services Department will continue exploring additional options for youth and family shelters.

In addition, Seattle Parks and Recreation will close all parks, boat ramps, beaches, and playfields through Sunday. Restrooms in parks will remain open. The University District Seattle Public Library (SPL) branch’s restroom will also be closed through the weekend, as that specific branch does not have air conditioning. SPL curbside pickup is also suspended through the weekend due to unhealthy air quality. Seattle Center will close its public restrooms through the weekend due to the lack of air conditioning and air filtration systems.

Additionally, Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) will close Rattlesnake Lake Recreation Area through Sunday due to air quality concerns. Rattlesnake Ledge Trail remains closed until further notice.

The City of Seattle currently operates two other shelters that possess the MERV 13 air filtration system necessary to comply with smoke and COVID-19 public health protocols. Those shelters are Fisher Pavilion, which has capacity for 80 people, and Exhibition Hall, which has capacity for 130 people.

In addition, the City and County are conducting outreach to businesses, particularly businesses utilizing the Seattle Department of Transportation’s street use permits for outdoor dining, homeless service providers, service providers for older adults, and child care operators, to make sure communities are aware of the public health guidance as it relates to wildfire smoke and COVID-19.

Public Health – Seattle & King County advises all those who are able to stay inside for the duration of the unhealthy air quality. All those who have asthma or other respiratory conditions should take care to have their inhaler and other relevant medications. If a person with existing health conditions experiences a worsening of their condition due to the unhealthy air, they should contact their health care provider immediately.

It’s important to note that cloth face coverings – while critical to preventing the spread of COVID-19 – do NOT prevent respiratory harms that could be caused by unhealthy air quality. N95 and N100 masks offer slightly better protection against unhealthy air quality, however, those should continue to be reserved for health care workers and first responders addressing the COVID-19 pandemic.

Residents should regularly check Puget Sound Clean Air Agency for updates on air quality. For information about COVID-19, including in multiple languages, visit www.kingcounty.gov/COVID

The Seattle Fire Department urges the public to take steps to prevent additional fires from starting, to include properly discarding of smoking materials and ensuring vehicles don’t create sparks. Read more on the Fireline Blog.