Study: Air pollution directly affects COVID-19 severity

Two girls with mask

We know it's a complete, utter (but absolutely necessary) nuisance, but if there's one thing that the community quarantine has done for the Philippines, it's to lower the country's pollution levels by a significant degree.

According to data shared by and the Institute of Environmental Science and Metereology (IESM) of the University of the Philippines, Diliman, the northern part of Metro Manila's concentration of particulate matter dropped from 20 micrograms per cubic meter (μg/m3), to PM2.5 concentrations of 7.1 μg/m3.

That's quite a significant figure. A 13 μg/m3 reduction is not something to laugh about.

Particulate matter and COVID-19 deaths are closely related


Particulate matter is an important component when studying air pollution. Generally, more particulate matter means more pollution.

What's more, particulate matter directly affects the mortality rate in COVID-19 patients. A study made by a team of researchers from the Department of Biostatistics at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found out that increasing these particles even as little as 1 μg/m3 in PM2.5 raises the coronavirus mortality rate to eight percent.

The reason for this is that several of the pre-existing conditions that seem to worsen the COVID-19 affliction are also the same illnesses that occur when a person is exposed to air pollution over a long period of time.

Both share a common denominator: the lungs.

virus covid 19

Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) is a strain of coronavirus that causes the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). It is pinpointed as the major reason for patient deaths. Studies show that SARS-CoV-2 virus attacks the lungs, and people who have more pollutants in their lungs have lesser chances of recovering from it.

According to an article by Volvo and Scandinavian Motors, the "ambient air pollution" that people breathe can come from natural sources like dust storms and forest fires. It can also come from man-made sources like motor vehicles, coal and oil power plants, industrial facilities, agricultural and municipal waste sites, waste incineration, residential cooking, and lighting with polluting fuels.

The resulting lockdown has caused most of these levels — particularly those from man-made sources — to go down. With lesser pollutants inside their lungs, COVID-19 patients have better chances of recovering from the disease.

So, what happens next?

Crowded transportation station

Now that the country is slowly transitioning from ECQ to modified ECQ and general community quarantine (GCQ), one pervading question comes to mind: What happens to coronavirus patients once these man-made pollution sources are in full swing once again?

For sure, there will be more vehicles, more open factories, and more coal and oil power plants in full operation. Particulate matters will once again rise, which means pollution levels will also go up to higher levels.

If that's the case, are we just making things worse by freeing ourselves from the quarantine? And does this mean that we will sacrifice more COVID-19 deaths along the way?

Truth be told, these are important questions we don't want to answer right now.

Photos from Pixabay

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