Report: Pandemic could increase extreme heat risks

online map
Hennepin County maintains an online map of public buildings that have air conditioning.

Older people could be particularly vulnerable to the effects of extreme heat events this summer, because of the physical isolation that COVID-19 requires, a new report says.

Such events appear to be on the rise in Minneapolis, where the average summer temperature has increased 2.3 degrees over the past 50 years.

Isolation, which has been forced upon millions of Americans because of the pandemic, is a leading contributor to heat deaths, according to the report, which was authored by the nonprofit news organization Climate Central.

Health experts say they’re worried about an increase of heat-related deaths because of it.

“Everyone should be aware that this summer there may be more vulnerable people home alone and isolated than ever before,” New York University sociologist Eric Klinenberg wrote in the report.

Approximately 12,000 Americans die each year from heat-related causes, and 80% are over 60, according to the report.

There is no universal definition of an extreme heat event, according to the Minnesota Department of Health. But in general, it refers to an extended period of unusually hot conditions.

Experts say that older adults’ best defense against excessive heat is social connection. The Climate Central report says that some cities are allocating additional money for air conditioners and utility bills, closing streets to allow more outdoor space for pedestrians and parking air-conditioned buses as cooling centers. Such measures sometimes take the place of traditional cooling centers, such as air-conditioned malls or libraries.

In Minneapolis, there are significantly fewer air-conditioned buildings open to the public than in previous years, with the closure of libraries and park recreation centers. Hennepin County maintains an online map of public buildings that have air conditioning.