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Free Air Filters for Lower-Income People With Asthma: How Bay Area Homes Can Sign Up

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UC Berkeley campus with haze from a Butte County fire on Nov. 9, 2018.  (J.P. Dobrin/KQED)

With the dual dangers of COVID-19 and raging wildfires, clean air has rarely been more top of mind in California. But many have struggled with an unhealthy breathing environment for years, like those living close to freeways.

Now, some of the Bay Area's most vulnerable may be in for a breath of fresh air with a bit of help from local health officials.

The Bay Area Air Quality Management District, through a partnership with Regional Asthma Management and Prevention, or RAMP, will provide home air purifiers to 2,000 lower-income residents in six Bay Area counties who have been diagnosed with asthma.

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, speaking Wednesday at the Roots Community Health Center in East Oakland, said the program will help lower-income communities and communities of color.

"These air filters will not only address air quality, which is being challenged by the wildfire season, but also will lessen the spread of COVID-19, a double benefit for those who have been most impacted," Schaaf said.


Seven Bay Area nonprofits and health organizations that were awarded funds through the Asthma Mitigation Project will distribute the HEPA-grade filters — key to filtering wildfire smoke. Participating counties include Alameda, Contra Costa, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara and Sonoma.

If you don't have time to read our full guide on how to sign up to get a filter, here's the quick version:

  • The program focuses on Medi-Cal patients and undocumented people without Medi-Cal. To qualify, eligible clients should have "moderate to severe" or "poorly controlled" asthma, according to a statement from a BAAQMD spokesperson. The program is for people enrolled in the state's Asthma Mitigation Project.
  • Officials say interested people who meet those qualifications should contact their health provider and ask about BAAQMD's "Home Air Filtration Program."
  • If you don't have a primary health care provider, contact one of the organizations participating in the program, or RAMP itself. A full list of those participating organizations can be found here.

How Does the Program Work?

With wildfire season already underway, nonprofit organizations have been given these air filtration units to distribute to qualifying households.

The aim is to improve breathing conditions at home — especially since wildfire smoke can trigger wheezing and other health impacts in those who experience asthma, emphysema or other respiratory conditions. A clean room with an air filtration unit can offer wildfire smoke relief, health officials say.

“Wildfires are increasing in the region and residents with asthma are some of the most vulnerable to the related smoke impacts,” BAAQMD CEO Jack Broadbent said in a statement. The program, Broadbent said, "can help reduce emergency room visits when air quality becomes unhealthy.”

When someone signs up for the program and qualifies, the Asthma Mitigation Project will provide in-home visits by community health workers to educate people on asthma self-management and on setting up air filtration units. The program has guides available in English, Spanish, Tagalog, Chinese, Vietnamese and Arabic.

Who Qualifies?

This program is focused on Medi-Cal patients, particularly children and adults with asthma. You can also qualify if you're an undocumented adult who is not otherwise qualified for Medi-Cal and who has asthma.

Wildfire and Air Quality

The severity classification of asthma, says the Air District, should be "moderate to severe or poorly controlled." That's determined by an asthma-related emergency department visit or a hospitalization, or having had two sick or urgent care asthma-related visits in the past 12 months, or a score of 19 or lower on the Asthma Control Test.

Also, you can obtain a recommendation from a licensed physician, nurse practitioner or physician assistant.

How Can I Sign Up?

First and foremost, reach out to your personal physician or health care provider to ask about the program.

But if that's not an option for you, not to worry: A number of organizations are participating in the program and you can reach out to them directly.

Here's a list of organizations broken down by county:

People can also contact RAMP directly if they think they qualify. The air filtration units are certified by the California Air Resources Board, are Energy Star-efficient and are sized for 155-, 230-, 310- and 360-square-foot rooms.

KQED's Peter Arcuni contributed reporting to this post.

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