Schools keep kids indoors, cancel outdoor athletics due to unhealthy air conditions
TRI-CITIES, Wash. – Air quality in our region is back to unhealthy levels as wildfire smoke is stuck in the Columbia Valley.
"When you wake up to a morning like this, there's no doubt things are going to be canceled," said Steve Aagaard, Richland School District communications director.
A blanket of smoke is so thick throughout the Tri-Cities, you can barely make out the cable bridge.
"The smoke is very unusual, and very unhealthy as we know, so we're keeping kids inside," Aagaard said.
Due to the heavy smoke, Aagaard said they're keeping children inside during recess, P.E. as well as canceling after school athletics Tuesday.
"Students with asthma related problems-- they often stay inside if there's any kind of smoke in the air, but now it’s district wide and we're keeping everybody in,” he said.
The Benton Franklin Health District issued guidelines for schools and daycares, explaining how to respond to these unhealthy, and hazardous conditions. Health officials suggest keeping kids indoors, and keeping activity levels light. For example, playing board games, throwing and catching while standing, and cup stacking.
The recommendations also suggest canceling athletic events and practices, or to move the events to an area of “Good” air quality.
In addition, principals have been advised to make sure that students do not wait in any lines outside the buildings. Health officials said it is important for students and staff to remain well hydrated when the air quality is poor. Lungs can become dehydrated which can make it difficult to cough up particles that are inhaled.
"Our safety coordinator sent out guidelines to all of our principals,” Aagaard said. “So all of our principals are aware of how exactly to keep kids safe, so we're communicating with all of our staff and our parents as well."
The Health District said they've received numerous calls about if they should allow kids to walk to-and-from schools, and health officials said it’s a parent's decision.
"We'd ask that parents use their best judgement about having their kids outside," said Dr. Amy Person, health officer at the Benton Franklin Health District.
Dr. Person said anyone who experiences symptoms from smoke inhalation, like wheezing, shortness of breath or chest pain, should see their medical provider.
"I think people do need to recognize that there are things they can do about it, and the big one is to limit their outdoor activities," she said.
The school districts said they'll monitor the air quality every day as this smoke lingers throughout the week.
"As far as the school district goes, we'll continue to keep kids inside as long as necessary," Aagaard said.
Based on the amount of indoor space, cancelations for afterschool athletics will vary from school to school, so the districts suggest you contact your specific school for more information.
The districts will also be updating their websites and social media accounts as changes are made to school activities.