Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Aerial view of the sky with a red hue due to the arrival of the Sahara dust in the Chetumal area on June 24, 2020 in Quintana Roo, Mexico. The National Center for Disaster Prevention (Cenapred) reported that the cloud it is a very dry and dust-laden mass of air that forms over the Sahara desert, mainly in the summer, and moves towards the Atlantic Ocean every three to five days. (Photo: Medios y Media/Getty Images)

States Overwhelmed by Coronavirus Pandemic Face Another Health Hazard as Massive Dust Plume Heads Toward Southern US

People with respiratory ailments in Texas and Florida, where hospitals are nearing capacity with Covid-19 patients, may find little healthcare support if the dust plume exacerbates their conditions.

Julia Conley

The health effects of a dust plume which is expected to reach some southern states this week from the Sahara Desert are likely to be exacerbated by the Trump administration's response to the coronavirus pandemic and the resulting overstrained U.S. healthcare system.

The dust cloud is the result of a naturally-occurring phenomenon known as the Sahara Air Layer, which forms each year between June and August over the Sahara Desert in Africa. This year, several small storm systems over central and western Africa caused a number of dust storms to develop, leading to the creation of a large dust plume.

Scientists say the plume that has begun drifting towards North America, thousands of feet over the Atlantic Ocean, is the largest that's been recorded in half a century.

The plume reached Puerto Rico earlier this week, and high levels of dust in the air have been recorded in Mexico and throughout the Caribbean. 

Astronauts at the International Space Station tweeted over the weekend that they could see the plume.

The cloud is expected to reach Texas, Louisiana, Florida, and other southeastern states by Thursday—bringing with it the risk of air pollution warnings in parts of the country where cases of the respiratory virus Covid-19 are currently surging.

The plume could drift toward mid-Atlantic states over the weekend, according to CNN.

As Common Dreams reported in April, studies have shown since the pandemic began in March that high levels of air pollution can exacerbate respiratory conditions.

Researchers at the T.H. Chan School of Public Health at Harvard University examined data about harmful particulate matter such as dust in 3,080 counties across the country over the past 17 years and compared pollution levels with the counties' death rates thus far from Covid-19, the respiratory illness caused by the new coronavirus. The study found that people living in areas with high levels of particulate matter were 15% more likely to die if they contract Covid-19 compared to people living in an area with less air pollution.

"There is some emerging information that people who live in places with higher levels of air pollution may be at higher risk" of Covid-19, Gregory Wellenius, a professor of environmental health at Boston University, told NBC News on Wednesday.  

In Barbados, officials issued a Severe Dust Haze Warning on Wednesday as the plume blanketed the island, asking residents with respiratory conditions to take shelter. 

Hurricanes and tropical storms may be tempered by the formation of the unusually large dust cloud, as storms need moisture to form. However, with healthcare resources stretched thin in states including Florida and Texas due to the pandemic, Wellenius told NBC, the plume along with other extreme weather events this year may leave those affected without the healthcare they need.

"Things like the wildfire season, hurricane season, and extreme weather events, including this dust storm, may be magnified this year," he said.

Hospitals across Florida are reporting that their ICU beds are full, and the number of hospitalized Covid-19 patients in Texas has reached record highs every day for nearly two weeks. On Wednesday, The Guardian reported that Houston hospitals weere near capacity.    

The Republican governors of Texas and Florida, Greg Abbott and Ron DeSantis, have echoed President Donald Trump's calls for Americans to return to their daily routines even as cases of Covid-19 have been on the rise. 

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

Groups Warn US Lawmakers Against Fueling 'New Cold War' With China

A policy of hostility toward Beijing, says a global justice advocate, has "become a convenient excuse for pushing a corporate, militarist agenda."

Jessica Corbett ·

To 'Hold Her Accountable for What She Did,' Primary Sinema Project Gets Into Gear

"Kyrsten Sinema is unfit to be a United States senator," the project asserts. "Just like the filibuster itself, we need to get rid of her if we want to save our democracy before it's too late."

Brett Wilkins ·

Biden Outpaced Trump on Drilling Permits in First Year

"Avoiding catastrophic climate change requires ending new fossil fuel extraction," said one advocate, "but Biden is racing in the opposite direction."

Kenny Stancil ·

First Stop for Cuellar After FBI Raid? An Anti-Choice Event

"Despite being under an FBI investigation," said progressive primary challenger Jessica Cisneros, the congressman from Texas "has once again proven that nothing can stop him from opposing our reproductive rights and freedoms."

Brett Wilkins ·

House Calls Big Oil Board Members to Testify on 'Phony' Net-Zero Pledges

"It's critical that Congress holds these companies accountable and exposes the industry's fake climate pledges for the fraud that they are," said one supporter of Democrats' probe.

Jessica Corbett ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.

Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo