By KENTUCKY CABINET FOR HEALTH AND FAMILY SERVICES

FRANKFORT — Kentucky Department for Public Health Commissioner Dr. Steven Stack warned Kentuckians on Friday that air quality in the state may be poor this weekend and into next week.

An enormous cloud of dry and dusty air that originated over the Sahara Desert will move across the southern United States over the next three to seven days.

“We absolutely need to be cautious this weekend and next week, monitor the air quality index in our area, and if needed, limit our time outside,” Gov. Andy Beshear said. “We’ve already shown that we can come together to fight a global pandemic for months, so I know we can take the steps needed to protect ourselves and our loved ones over one week.”

This type of dust plume, known as the Saharan Air Layer (SAL), is an annual phenomenon in the late spring, summer and early fall.

It can occupy a 2- to 2.5-mile-thick layer in the atmosphere, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. However, the most recent SAL cloud, first formed on June 14, is unusually large. It is one of the thickest on record and nearly 5,000 miles long. That means it could have a significant negative impact on air quality when it moves over Kentucky.

Poor air quality can aggravate those suffering from respiratory conditions such as asthma and COPD.

It can also pose health risks for seniors and young children.

“Fortunately, unlike COVID-19, this is a short-term issue, and the masks most Kentuckians are already wearing will also help protect them from inhaling dust,” Stack said. “But this is still a serious risk for our youngest and oldest residents, as well as those with any respiratory issues. We need to be especially careful this weekend about spending extended time outdoors.”

Kentuckians should consistently check the air quality in their zip code at airnow.gov and watch for any changes in the sky’s color and visibility.”

Dust particles in the air may cause people to experience eye irritation, lung and throat irritation and trouble breathing.

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