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As the summer days get hotter, it’s a good time to remember that heat-related deaths and illnesses are entirely preventable.
“Even though we need to stay home to avoid COVID-19, finding ways to spend time outside has a number of positive health benefits and there are a number of simple steps you can take to stay safe, even when the heat can be deadly,” said Georges C. Benjamin, MD, executive director of the American Public Health Association. “Remember to drink plenty of water, limit your exposure and take other precautions to stay safe.”
Every year, more than 600 people in the U.S. die due to extreme heat, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The agency offers a range of guidance on reducing heat risks, recognizing signs of heat illness and protecting vulnerable populations, such as outdoor workers, people with chronic health conditions and households without air conditioning.
This summer, however, COVID-19 may make it harder for many vulnerable residents to escape the heat. While people often seek relief in places like public libraries, malls and recreation centers, many of those remain closed or have restricted access to ensure safe physical distancing. That could result in more people seeking relief at cooling centers — air-conditioned spaces set up by local authorities during extreme heat. Maintaining COVID-19 precautions inside such centers, such as physical distancing and wearing masks, will be key to ensuring they remain safe options for vulnerable residents.
Pools and recreational waters are another source of relief during sweltering conditions. To date, CDC reports no evidence that the novel coronavirus can infect people through water. But swimmers should still stay at least six feet apart.
Summer heat may also make it less comfortable to wear a face mask, but it’s essential to keep masks on in outdoor spaces where physical distancing is difficult. Some tips for making face masks more comfortable: use breathable fabrics such as cotton; choose a light color that doesn’t absorb as much heat; and keep the mask snug against the face, but not too tight.
“We all like to spend time outdoors in the summer,” Benjamin said. “But we must be careful that we do so in the safest possible manner — stay hydrated, watch for signs of heat illness, keep physically distant, and wear a mask if you can’t stay six feet apart.”
Visit CDC and APHA’s Get Ready campaign for more heat safety tips.
The American Public Health Association champions the health of all people and all communities. We are the only organization that combines a nearly 150-year perspective, a broad-based member community and the ability to influence federal policy to improve the public’s health. Learn more at www.apha.org.