It’s not even summer on the calendar yet, and the temperature has already topped 100 degrees on several occasions in New York City. According to the Centers for Disease Control, global warming leads to more heat emergency days. In addition to the discomfort, increased need for air conditioning that strains the electrical grid in any region (remember the blackout of 2003?) and generalized lassitude that a lot of really hot days strung together brings, why are excess heat emergency days a big deal? For one simple public health reason: more people die.
Chicago may be famous for its 1871 fire, but my city took heat more recently for how it mishandled the 1995 heat wave, in which more than 500 excess heat deaths occurred. So many elderly, isolated, low-income people, afraid to open their apartment windows because they lived in high-crime neighborhoods perished that the city morgue was filled to capacity. Refrigerated trucks filled with corpses lined up outside of Cook County Hospital. The stench only made the morbid scene more grotesque. Even the revered New England Journal of Medicine researched the heat wave, the excess deaths, and the lack of local government response. The result: cities need to get ready for more heat waves, or heat emergency days and help protect their most vulnerable citizens when it gets really hot. So the next time it the thermometer hits 95 or 100 degrees for a few days, drink a lot of water, stay cool, and look in on your elderly and infirm neighbors. You may keep someone out of a refrigerated morgue truck.
Photo courtesy of Reverend Sam at flickr.com.