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Officials: New York City smoke situation is improving, but masking recommended

Canadian wildfire smoke Thursday 6/8 3 p.m. update
Canadian wildfire smoke Thursday 6/8 3 p.m. update 16:15

NEW YORK -- New Yorkers were being urged to stay inside Thursday, as air quality concerns continued due to smoky haze from the Canadian wildfires.

Health officials said if you have to go out, wear a facemask.

The wildfires are causing dangerous air quality levels in New York City, reaching the worst in the world on Wednesday. 

City leaders have called it an environmental and health crisis.   

NYS health commissioner shares his advice amid air quality concerns 03:35

CBS News New York spoke with New York State Acting Health Commissioner Dr. James McDonald's on Thursday morning for an update on conditions and the state's response. 

"I think we're going to see this go on for another day or two," he said. "If you can stay inside, that's the best bet. If you do have to go outside -- I have my N95 on me. I, quite frankly, encourage people to have theirs. Any mask will do. Use the best mask you can."

The commissioner added with the air quality index at historic highs, even healthy New Yorkers are at risk. He urged everyone to limit their outdoor exercise until conditions improve.

City-sponsored events on Thursday were canceled. 

"This is an unprecedented event in our city, and all New Yorkers must take precautions," Mayor Eric Adams said Wednesday.  

The city's four zoos remained closed, along with the New York Aquarium and public beaches.

On Thursday morning, Gov. Kathy Hochul gave an update on how the smoky air is impacting the state, saying there is only one area that not affected.

"Every place is unhealthy except for the Adirondacks. That might be a healthy plug for the Adirondacks. That is the only place with clean air in the state right now. We are seeing unhealthy air quality levels on Long Island, New York, eastern Lake Ontario, Central New York, Western New York," Hochul said.

Hochul: NYC's AQI still about 4x higher than normal 00:34

Added Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand: "New Yorkers should take the threat posed by severe air pollution seriously. I encourage everyone in affected areas to stay indoors as much as possible and follow the most recent health guidance to protect themselves, their families, and their pets. Furthermore, we must take action to stop these wildfires at their source, which is why I called on the U.S. Forest Service to support any request from Canada for help in suppressing these wildfires."

Hochul said the Air Quality Index for areas in New York City are still running about four times higher than normal.

Meanwhile, her office is distributing 1 million facemasks across the state, including 400,000 in New York City.

Mask will be handed out at the following locations: 

  • Grand Central Terminal
  • Penn Station
  • Fulton Center
  • Jamaica Station

PHOTO GALLERY: Smoky haze over New York City

Many New Yorkers were taking no chances and were putting their masks back on when walking around outside.

"It feels like COVID again," said Brandon Givens of the Bronx.

"It's very concerning," added Ray Cameron of the Upper West Side. "I am being very thoughtful of how I am going about doing my activities."

There wasn't much action on the bike and running paths along the West Side Highway on Thursday morning. Usually, it is one of the country's most heavily used greenways.

While waiting for the bus on the city's West Side, Emmy Hicks of Port Washington remained masked up.

"I am going down to D.C. to see my girlfriend and I don't want to get this all in my system," Hicks said.

Some traffic enforcement agents were seen wearing masks, but not everyone was adhering to the warnings.

Emad Youssdef, who works as a street food vendor, said he was taking his mask on and off on Thursday, but 24 hours earlier had it tight across his mouth.

"Too much smoking," Youssdef said. "Yesterday, it was very bad."

While things are supposed to get much better by the weekend, the governor is warning that the smoke event may not be over just yet. The wildfires up north are still burning, so our area may get hit with more smoke in the future. 

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