Can Cleaner Air From COVID-19 Lockdowns Save Lives?

Rare sights of the hills around California, USA. Surprisingly clean air in New Delhi, India. Clear blue horizons in Beijing, China.

Is the earth’s air quality better amid the global pandemic?

One of the few positive effects of COVID-19 lockdowns and stay-at-home orders is the apparent decline in air pollution due to reduced industrial and manufacturing production, as well as the significant decrease in auto emissions. 

According to new research, the clearer-looking skies may have paved the way for 7,000 fewer premature deaths and about 7,000 fewer asthma attacks. “The COVID lockdown is not sustainable and it is not the way we want to reduce air pollution,” said study co-author Kristin Aunan, senior research fellow at the Center for International Climate Research. She added, however, that the research helps demonstrate the massive impacts of air pollution that people experience year after year.

University of British Columbia environmental health professor Michael Brauer, who has no association with the researchers added that “this is by far the most comprehensive and detailed look at the air quality impacts of shutdowns related to COVID that I have seen.” Regardless, Brauer described the health effects as “overly simplistic.”

Although the impact is overly simplistic to others, it is important to note that these changes are still positive, and thousands of people with health problems are experiencing some benefits. 

How did the researchers test the world’s air quality? 

Aunan and colleagues utilized satellite data and readings from over 10,000 air monitors in 27 different countries. They compared the information with figures from the past three years, factoring in weather variations.

The group examined three main pollutants: ozone (O3), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), and PM2.5, the smallest pollution particles that penetrate deep into the lungs and cause the most harm. After which, the researchers factored in pollution statistics into existing formulas for health effects.

Aunan expressed that “we know quite a lot about air pollution’s impacts on health.” NO2 pollution alone causes an estimated 4 million asthma cases in children annually worldwide. Meanwhile, O3 and PM2.5 are leading contributors to between 4 million and 9 million annual premature deaths around the world. These deaths involve patients with cardiovascular disease, lung disease, and acute respiratory infections.

Overall, the researchers found a 29 percent decline in NO2, and O3 dropped by 11 percent on average. However, the differences were highly variable. As for the level of PM2.5, it was down significantly in some places in the world, but not others.

In conclusion, the reductions added up to approximately 7,400 fewer premature deaths, as well as around 6,600 fewer asthma cases among children—all within two weeks following national stay-at-home orders. What’s more, in the unlikely and undesired event that COVID-19 lockdowns persist throughout 2020, the researchers estimated that the figures could grow to 1.6 million asthma cases avoided and 780,000 lives spared and in the 27 countries studied.

What is the effect of air quality to recovering cancer patients?

Those with heart diseases and respiratory disorders are not the only ones benefiting from better air quality. Although cancer patients and survivors have a higher risk of developing the novel coronavirus, the improvement in air quality might do wonders for patients recovering from cancer treatment. According to Patient Empowerment Network, “air quality is an important part of living a healthy life.” In fact, studies show that people with certain forms of cancer are prone to facing more challenges during recovery if they live in places with heavy air pollution.

Furthermore, cancer patients and survivors who reside in wide open, green spaces are also susceptible to experiencing recovery hurdles, as many houses are known to contain even more pollutants than the air outside. A person does not even need a lung cancer diagnosis to feel the effects of mold spores and other pollutants circulating throughout the air inside a house or recovery facility. As such, knowing how to combat at-home air pollutants will help ensure a faster and easier recovery, as well as help strengthen the immune system against the possibility of contracting COVID-19.

What is the importance of avoiding infection among cancer patients?

When the body is recovering from cancer treatment, it is important for patients to avoid close contact with other people and any allergen that could trigger infection. This is the main reason hospitals maintain absolute cleanliness, which allows each patient’s immune system to rebuild and strengthen itself over time.

Most hospitals or recovery facilities will have a HEPA air purifier, which has the capacity to catch and eliminate bacteria, virus, and mold in the air. Therefore, air filters are an excellent tool for preventing infections and facilitating quick recovery, particularly among patients with respiratory types of cancer.

Did you know that a high-quality air filter can purify the average-sized hospital up to 12 times per hour? If you wish to invest in an air filter or purifier for your household, it is necessary to get one with a HEPA filter, since it will help capture microscopic allergens that can cause damage, even after your treatment and recovery are over.

Can air filters help prevent COVID-19?

The United States Environmental Protection Agency, however, stated that “when used properly, air purifiers can help reduce airborne contaminants, including viruses in a home or confined space.” But by itself, the organization revealed that an air cleaner “is not enough to protect people from COVID-19. When used along with other best practices recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), then operating an air cleaner can be part of a plan to protect yourself and your family.”


The main issue here is that exposure to poor air quality or air pollution can cause infections and weaken the already compromised immune systems of asthmatics, cancer patients, survivors, and other people with health issues, which can ultimately increase their chances of developing and possibly losing the battle with COVID-19.  Fortunately, as the lockdowns help reduce the amount of ozone, nitrogen dioxide, and PM2.5 in the air, and as people learn to fight at-home air pollutants, “we can learn from this opportunity how to regulate pollution when we go back to normal,” Harvard University biostatistician Francesca Dominici said.

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