In Spokane 20 deaths and many more medical emergencies have been linked to the heat wave that swept through the Pacific Northwest last week.
Many of the people who died due to heat exposure were found alone, without air conditioning. Health officials expect more deaths this summer across the region as unusually hot weather continues.
According to the Washington State Department of Health, 78 deaths have been attributed to the heat, but the number is likely much higher due to delays in reporting from local governments and health districts.
Dr. Lonika Sook is an Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine Faculty member, noted the heat wave’s impacts likely hit the same community members that have already been hit hard by the pandemic.
“The present heat wave and the related climate change crisis that we’re going through does affect our vulnerable populations. Those people that may be in low socioeconomic status, or have housing inequities will be affected disproportionately than others.”
She said children under 4, or adults over 65, as well as people with diabetes, a heart, or lung issue, are very vulnerable to heat. Many people with those conditions have also not sought medical care as recently, or as often as they may normally, due to either fear, or barriers they faced in going to a clinic or the hospital.
“Those patients, just like you said, are exposed to high temperatures in the environment, even for 10 to 15 minutes of time, and on top of that, if they have strenuous activity, they can become very sick, very very quickly, making it hard for them to seek the appropriate medical attention if they don’t have somebody around them.”
Heat events are becoming more common due to climate change, and extreme heat is likely throughout this summer. A significant portion of Eastern Washington is under a heat advisory this weekend. According to the national weather service, temperatures could reach as high as 105.
Sook said if you’re vulnerable to the heat, and don’t have a cool, safe place, seek shelter. Shortness of breath, and loss of consciousness are also signs of severe heat illness, and if you see someone experience those symptoms, call 911.