New York City Moves to Protect ‘Vulnerable Populations’ Against Savage Summer Temps

July 10, 2020 by Jacob Pederson

After waging a pitched, months-long battle against the coronavirus, New York City is now stepping up its efforts to protect its residents from a more familiar adversary — the onset of summer heat wave season.

Even without a global pandemic, scorching summer temperatures in big cities pose a threat to the elderly, those with underlying medical conditions, and the poor — the same populations that have borne the brunt of the coronavirus outbreak.

According to Michael Lanza, assistant press secretary in the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, on average, 13 people die from heat stroke in the city each year, and another 115 die from heat worsening pre-existing health conditions.

“Most heat stroke deaths happen after exposure to heat inside homes without air conditioning,” Lanza said. 

“There are also about 450 emergency room visits and 150 hospital admissions related to hot weather each year,” he added.

The death toll of heat related illness nationwide is over 600 people every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

While reducing the number of people adversely affected by the heat is always the city’s goal, this year’s efforts come at a time when resources have been stretched in extraordinary ways, hospitals and medical centers have seen their facilities needed by a crush of patients, and when 22,719 people have died over the course of the ongoing medical emergency.

To help New Yorkers beat the heat, the city announced last week that it is deploying more than 1200 cooling elements — think spray showers and the like — in neighborhoods known to be heat islands during a typical summer.

New York’s Cool Streets Initiative already has 950 water-based cooling features that are turned on when the temperature hits 80 degrees in order to help people regulate their body temperature and prevent heat-related illness, according to the city’s “Cool It!” website

The city also turns on thousands of water fountains and water bottle filling stations throughout the city, the website said.

In addition to the 250 new spray showers, the city also plans to install 320 temporary misting caps on fire hydrants in heat-stressed communities, according to Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office.

The program includes an online interactive map that shows residents the locations of all public cooling features, drinking fountains and areas with high tree cover. 

“With the city’s new Cool Streets initiative, New Yorkers will have more opportunities than ever to stay cool safely this summer, taking advantage of brand new open streets and our city’s extensive tree canopy,” said NYC Parks Commissioner Mitchell J. Silver. 

To ensure the program doesn’t inadvertently exacerbate the coronavirus situation, the city is asking residents to adhere to social distancing guidelines, and it has shut down cooling stations in spaces that don’t permit for such distancing.

Cool Streets is operated by the New York City Department of Transportation.

Other initiatives the city has initiated include an adapted heat plan, including the Get Cool NYC to provide 74,000 low-income seniors with air conditioners.

The Health Department also runs a program called Be A Buddy, a community-based pilot project that focuses on building social cohesion to help residents prepare for and respond to extreme heat, coastal storms, power outages, and other weather-related emergencies. 

At the height of the pandemic, the Be A Buddy networks that were developed for heat wave and other extreme weather event check-ins were adapted to conduct COVID-19 wellness checks.

“Summer is very much here, and we need all of the tools at our disposal to keep New Yorkers safe and cool – especially during such unprecedented times,” said Deputy Mayor Laura Anglin.

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