A Washington state resident became the first person in the United States with a confirmed case of the novel coronavirus, having returned from Wuhan, China, on Jan. 15, 2020.
As 2020 ended, the United States surpassed 20 million infections from COVID-19, and more than 346,000 deaths.
Government officials on the local, state and federal levels scrambled to find ways for the population to avoid the rapidly spreading virus. California became the first state to issue a stay-at-home order, mandating all residents to self-quarantine except to go to an essential job or shop for essential needs. Other states soon followed.
COVID-19 has affected our daily lives in an unprecedented range of ways, from physical distancing to travel bans. But the pandemic is also influencing our planet.
Air pollution levels have dropped significantly since measures such as quarantines and shutdowns were put in place to contain COVID-19. Around the world, levels of harmful pollutants like nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide and small particulate matter have plummeted — at least while shutdowns continue.
The Michigan Department of Natural Resources provides air monitoring data from its monitoring stations near roadways around the state. When Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued stay-at-home orders, traffic levels immediately decreased as did nitrogen dioxide levels. A sampling of two monitoring stations in Detroit and Dearborn showed that there was a reduction in traffic-related pollution, which increased once restrictions were lifted.
Yet environmental benefits will only be temporary unless we implement long-term measures to cut emissions. It’s a reminder that air pollution is a global threat that can’t be forgotten, even in these challenging times.