Saharan Dust Cloud Strikes Southern US States Already Battling Rise of Coronavirus

A dust cloud that drifted across the Atlantic Ocean from the Sahara desert hit the southeastern part of the US, and Florida is expected to be hit hardest on Sunday.

Dust pollution will likely cause air quality degradation, cloudy skies, and reduced visibility, according to an update from the National Weather Service. Florida will probably be hit hardest when the first wave hits the Atlantic and follows the winds toward the Gulf of Mexico.

Dust particles are expected to decrease on Monday before another wave is likely to return to the Gulf later in the week, the National Weather Service said.

The huge column of dust from the Sahara desert moving over the Atlantic Ocean will float over parts of the southeastern U.S.National Metereological Service

Experts told NBC News that people with respiratory illnesses could see their conditions aggravated by dust particles, which could put pressure on hospitals that are already full of coronavirus cases.

Florida, in particular, faces increased risk as the state experiences a record increase in new coronavirus cases and the availability of adult intensive care units is around 24 percent, according to state data on Sunday. There are more than 141,000 cases of coronavirus in Florida, as thousands test positive every day.

There could potentially be a link between air pollution and COVID-19 symptoms, although the data is still very early, Gregory Wellenius, professor of environmental health at the Boston University School of Public Health said Wednesday.

“Things like wildfire season, hurricane season and extreme weather events, including this dust storm, can be expanded this year because resources are already depleted,” said Wellenius. “Just because we are in a pandemic world does not mean that other dangers we are concerned about are not happening.”

The National Weather Service said Sunday that the dust cloud could also contribute to colorful sunrises and sunsets, with deeper oranges and reds compared to normal.

The Georgia Department of Public Health issued a warning Saturday to residents, especially those with chronic lung conditions, to limit their time outdoors if they notice cloudy skies.

“Keep windows and doors closed,” said the notice. “Run an air conditioner if you have one, but keep the fresh air intake closed.”

The state also recommended wearing a mask in public to reduce both the risk of spread of the coronavirus and the risk of inhaling dust particles.

Social media users in the south began posting photos over the weekend that showed haze over the horizons in places like Texas and Florida.