Masks are the new normal as poor air quality persists

The air quality is so bad that Cal is thinking about canceling the 'Big Game' on Saturday. 

People wearing masks is the new normal in the Bay Area with dense smoke from Butte County's deadly Camp Fire sending air quality readings into the the purple "very unhealthy" category. 

On UC Berkeley's campus many students were seen walking around wearing face masks with filters. The poor air quality led to UC Berkeley to cancel a men's basketball game at Haas Pavilion Thursday night. 

School officials said a significant amount of smoke infiltrated the gymnasium. One student read an email Cal sent out about canceling classes. 

"As a result, we have decided to cancel classes for the remainder of the day and on Friday," said Andre Palacios, a UC Berkeley student reading the email. "It's just been really irritating it's hard to breathe. You wake up with a runny nose all the time." 

The exposure to smoke has been prolonged as the haze has blanketed the Bay Area to varying degrees since the fire broke out November 8.  

Meanwhile, in Oakland at Markus Supply ACE Hardware, employees said they had to go to the wholesaler three times in a day to replenish masks as customers have been snatching them up. 

"That's empty. The only ones we have are a dust nuisance mask and it's not N95, so it's not really good for smoke inhalation," said Greg Jones, a store worker. 

They estimate they've sold 5,000 masks in just one day. People lined up and waited for 45 minutes when they heard the store was about to get another shipment late in the afternoon. 

"I started having chest pains, shortness of breath. That's why we came to get masks after my son's appointment," said Steve Polsin of Oakland. "We headed over to the Home Depot and they're all out of them. They've gotten two shipments today and they're flying off the shelves. They're gone."  

At Alta Bates Summit Medical Center, the medical director of E.R. said there has been a surge of patients needing medical help for respiratory problems. 

"It would be fair to say being exposed like this is equivalent to smoking a pack a day," said Dr. Ronn Berrol from Sutter Health. 

The doctor said healthy people should be back to normal in a few weeks, but that it's hard to say how much wearing a mask helps because they don't filter the smaller particles from the smoke. 

"The further we are from the fire, what we see in the air are the small particles. No one knows how much. I would say the masks do help," Dr. Berrol said. 

Back at Cal students said they are relieved classes are canceled. 

One student claimed the air quality is worse than what it is in Beijing. 

Cal said they haven't made a decision on Saturday's game yet.