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Hazardous Air Levels Climb As A Smoky, Ash-Filled Plume Remains Draped Over San Francisco Bay Area

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) -- Air quality deteriorated to the 'very unhealthy' level Friday in the San Francisco Bay Area as a plume of smoke and ash from wildfires raging across the West remained stalled overhead and combined with fog to cast the region's skies in a sickly color of gray.

The National Weather Service said the so-called high attitude steering winds that had helped improved air quality earlier in the week had disappeared. Find Air Quality Readings In Your Area

"Smoke and haze also continue to reduce visibility across our entire region and a thick layer of smoke continues to blanket much of the state," the weather service said Friday morning. "Given that winds are forecast to remain light through a deep layer of the atmosphere today, the thick smoke layer will persist and visibilities will be slow to improve."

The dark orange skies of earlier in the week had turned gray by Friday morning. Ash continued to collect on parked cars and outdoor decks. The Air Quality Index (AQI) levels map was dotted with very unhealthy purple readings across the Bay Area, including a 249 in San Rafael and 236 in San Leandro at 8 a.m.

The Bay Area Air Quality Management District issued a 'Spare the Air' alert for record 25th straight day, warning local residents of the dangers presented by lengthy exposure outdoors.

READ MORE: Record-Setting Spare The Air Streak Continues for 28th Day

Kyle Shanahan, head coach for the San Francisco 49ers, told reporters on Friday that if the AQI is above 200 Sunday, the first game of the 49ers season could be canceled. At the time of the presser, the the AQI was 190.

The hazardous smoky air forced San Francisco State officials to cancel their limited number of on-campus, in-class sessions on Friday. Remote learning classes were being held.

Many people like Ryan Peralta tried to minimize their time outside Thursday and likely will be doing the same on Friday. A normally busy Mission Bay park on Berry Street was nearly empty around lunch time.

"If I can see ash on cars, I'm not trying to be outside and breathing that air," Peralta said.

Dr. Peter Gleick of Oakland's Pacific Institute told KPIX 5 that major fires and smoke-filled skies are something Bay Area residents will be contending with as the climate continues to change.

"You can just think of it as 2020," Guenther said. "You've seen a lot of tweets like that. People tweet the photograph of what San Francisco looked like and say, 'Oh, 2020, could you get any worse?' As if once we get into 2021, these disasters are going to stop happening. It's not just 2020. It's that the future has come to us."

A typical drive over the Bay Bridge looked anything but on Friday. The hazardous smoky air obscured the city's silhouette. The East Bay didn't look much better. Virtually everything outside has been dusted with ash.

"Initially when I heard people complaining about coughing and stuff like that I thought it was just people being a little sensitive, but even myself, my throat's a little scratchy, it's a little dry you know, it's definitely noticeable," said Denny Paul of Walnut Creek.

Common symptoms even among people with no underlying respiratory conditions include headaches, sore throats, and chest pressure.

"From wildfire smoke, it's been shown that there are more respiratory illnesses like bronchitis, like exacerbations, maybe even pneumonia," said Dr. Vinnie Jha, a pulmonologist with Sutter CPMC.

Dr. Jha says he's seeing more patients come in with asthma exacerbations due to the wildfire smoke. He recommends even healthy people get air filters for their homes, stay indoors, and wear an N95 mask if you have one. While surgical or cloth masks are useful in preventing COVID-19, they are ineffective against the smoke.

"Because the air quality changes day by day, it's not a good idea, for somebody to be going out for an avoidable activity when you're seeing air quality index at the 200 level and in the red zone, when that activity could just be deferred to another day," he added.

"I've lived here my entire life and I've never seen anything like it. It's really sad. We should be out right now enjoying all the things we pay for in California to live here, and we're trapped inside," said Walnut Creek resident Robert Willett.

Betty Yu contributed to this report.


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