HERSHEY, Pa. (WHTM) — First and most important: This is June 2023, not June 2020. Midstate emergency rooms are not overrun with patients suffering from bad-air-related pulmonary issues now, as they were with COVID-19 sufferers early in the pandemic. And some ERs say they haven’t seen any measurable change at all in admissions.

But for what it’s worth, the emergency room at Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center saw a small but measurable uptick Thursday in admissions of children who already had chronic breathing issues — perhaps no surprise, given warnings the smoky air could exacerbate conditions like asthma — as well as an “atypical” number of new stroke patients.

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Why strokes?

Again, the numbers aren’t overwhelming. But Dr. Rebecca Bascom, a pulmonary doctor and head of the health and environment team in Hershey, said no one should be surprised if the effects of “PM 2.5” — “PM” for “particulate matter,” 2.5 for the size of the particles — go beyond the obvious impact on the lungs.

“This PM 2.5 impacts all the organ systems, and many people have a chronic condition that they need to think about when the air is bad,” Bascom said.

Bascom said the particles are of the right size to be caught by something few people outside hospitals knew much about until 2020 but almost everybody knows about now.

“N95 masks do an excellent job of removing the small particles that are the things that cause the toxicity,” she said.

Central Pennsylvanians woke up Thursday morning to some of the worst air quality in the world — a rarity in a region where “AQI,” or “air quality index,” isn’t typically a part of the local weather forecast as it is in some big cities or areas in the western U.S. accustomed to dealing with smoky air from forest fires.

“So it’s not something that we really have to think about on a daily basis,” said Tim Sheehan, a Penn State College of Medicine research project manager specializing in interstitial lung diseases. “But it’s good to know that those numbers are out there, and they are available for our area.”