COVID-19 brings unexpected environmental consequences

Moya Liu, Business Manager

As COVID-19 rapidly spreads around the world, people are being forced to stay home by shelter-in-place protocols. As quarantine becomes the new normal and communities adjust to this national emergency, millions are now working from home, as living rooms are turning into classrooms, factories are shutting down, and people are commuting and flying way less. 

This massive epidemic has led to a massive drop in air pollution as entire communities are forced to limi their emissions. Wuhan and northern Italy, which were Coronavirus hotspots only weeks ago, have seen a huge uptick in air quality in the last two months. A number of metropolitan areas throughout China also show a dramatic reduction in nitrogen dioxide (NO2) emissions, a gas emitted mainly from vehicles and power stations and which can cause inflammation of the respiratory system, captured by the U.S. Satellite images released by NASA. 

According to satellite data provided by Descartes Labs, the concentration of nitrogen dioxide, is also noticeably lower in much of California, where places including the Bay Area have implemented strict social distancing guidelines.

While a direct correlation between current high air pollution levels and incidence of COVID-19 is still unofficial, some researchers argue that high pollution levels might also increase the risk of contracting COVID-19 in the first place, as particulate matter has the potential to act as carriers and boosters for contagion leading to rapid spread over larger areas.

The pandemic has made it clearer than ever that human and planetary health are intimately interconnected.  

Although this momentary pause in emissions offers valuable lessons that can inform future actions to protect public health, it is no final solution to our environmental problems facing climate change and air pollution.