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COVID-19 Quarantine Reduces Emissions, Improves Air

Coronavirus, COVID-19; Pollution caused by PM2.5, NO2 decreased in China from Jan. 1 to Feb. 25 due to coronavirus-related shutdowns, and similar data is coming in from the U.S.
Josh Stevens
/
NASA Earth Observatory
Pollution caused by PM2.5, NO2 decreased in China from Jan. 1 to Feb. 25 due to coronavirus-related shutdowns, and similar data is coming in from the U.S.

While there are many economic concerns about business shutdowns related to the coronavirus, Utah State University professor Randy Martin said one positive outcome has been the reduction in emissions, leading to better air quality throughout the world.

“We know that in the last few weeks, the vehicle count, at least along the Wasatch Front, has dropped to about 75% of what it normally is," Martin said. "And just doing some really rough, back of the envelope calculations, that suggests that we're putting about 2,000 tons less per day of pollution in the air. And that's not accounting for businesses that are closed or reductions in air travel or train travel, because I just don't have those numbers.”

Will this emissions reduction have long term impacts on air quality? According to Simon Wang, a USU climate change professor, that may not be determined for another five years.

“It's similar to just the virus itself, right? You'll note that the people who contracted wouldn't have a response right away, I mean, you can you can wait from three days to up to two weeks," he said. "So, the atmosphere functions like that.”

Martin said the self-isolation measures in the state — as well as the lockdowns initiated globally — can serve as trial runs for people to reduce their carbon footprint.

“You know, they don't have to drive as much. And this is really driving at home a little bit in the extreme," Martin said. "But you know, these changes we're making now — try to keep a little bit moving forward. We'll all end up with a better environment.”

Wang said he anticipates research papers to come out within the next two months detailing the initial impacts of the coronavirus on air quality. Data on the immediate results can be found through the here globally and here for the U.S.