The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly affected human health and the economy. The implementation of social distancing practices to combat the virus spread, however, has led to a notable improvement in air quality. This study compared the surface air quality monitoring data from the United States Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA)’s AirNow network during the period 20 March–5 May in 2020 to those in 2015–2019 from the Air Quality System (AQS) network over the state of California. The results indicated changes in fine particulate matter (PM2.5
) of −2.04 ± 1.57 μg m−3
and ozone of −3.07 ± 2.86 ppb. If the air quality improvements persist over a year, it could potentially lead to 3970–8900 prevented premature deaths annually (note: the estimates of prevented premature deaths have large uncertainties). Public transit demand showed dramatic declines (~80%). The pandemic provides an opportunity to exhibit how substantially human behavior could impact on air quality. To address both the pandemic and climate change issues, better strategies are needed to affect behavior, such as ensuring safer shared mobility, the higher adoption of telecommuting, automation in the freight sector, and cleaner energy transition.
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