A heat wave engulfing large swathes of Ontario and Quebec could be tragic for those who are already most at risk from COVID-19, health experts warn.
Environment Canada issued a heat alert this week for much of southern and eastern Ontario, as well as special heat weather reports in parts of the province and most of Quebec.
Like COVID-19, rising summer temperatures are more dangerous for seniors and people with underlying health conditions, but, unlike summers ago, many of these people will not be able to rely on relief from air-conditioned shopping centers, libraries or leisure centers. Cinemas that offer cool darkness in addition to fun movies are closed. The wading pools and wading pools that generally open in late spring are dry.
“It could lead to a huge wave of excessive deaths around something that could have been avoided,” said Dr. Samir Sinha, director of geriatrics at the Sinai Health System in Toronto.
In Quebec, two-thirds of long-term care residents have no air conditioning in their rooms, he said – up to 28,000 residents.
Usually homes manage summer heat by bringing people together in air-conditioned spaces, but this is not possible when residents, who are particularly at risk of dying from COVID-19, must be separated.
Canada’s Deputy Director General, Dr. Howard Njoo, suggested on Tuesday that long-term care homes should install fans and take residents outside on shifts to maintain physical distance.
But it is a problem that governments should have seen coming, said Sinha.
After more than 90 deaths were linked to the 2018 suffocating heat wave in Quebec, mostly among seniors and people with underlying health conditions, he said little had been done to reduce the heat in long-term care.
Balancing the need for heat relief with measures to limit the spread of the new coronavirus will be a challenge for municipalities as scorching temperatures engulf part of central Canada, the chief public health administrator for the city said on Tuesday. country.
While some indoor and outdoor spaces that are currently closed due to the pandemic may be open to help residents cool down, ensuring physical distance and other health measures are essential, said Dr. Theresa Tam.
“All of these measures will continue to apply, unfortunately, so that would be something that people will have to respect,” said Tam.
It is easier to minimize the risk of transmitting COVID-19 outside, but problems arise when people have to use common spaces such as toilets, which municipalities need to consider, Tam said.
“So the number of people who can be accommodated is not necessarily due to the restrictions of this open space but to … access to these common services so that they have their specific plans to deal with them,” she declared.
Meanwhile, older adults who live independently and who may not be air conditioned and don’t want to leave their homes to find cooler spaces for fear of putting themselves at risk of contracting the virus, said Sinha.
“Seniors really end up with really limited options,” he said.
The type of isolation required by COVID-19 could also mean that people who develop dehydration or other heat-related health emergencies may not have the support they need, said Dr. Sandy Buchman, President from the Canadian Medical Association.
This is why air conditioning is so important, as are social supports for vulnerable people living alone, he said.
Cooling centers with adequate physical distance measurements will also be essential.
“They need it or we will see people succumb to it,” said Buchman.
In Toronto, where hundreds of these spaces were identified as a thermal backup network last year, officials said they would open six emergency cooling centers across the city.
The six centers have a combined total capacity of approximately 580 people, one person for four square meters. A city spokesman said mobile cooling will be available via city buses that will be on standby if the centers reach their maximum capacity.
Brad Ross said attendance at the cooling centers was low in the first hours after their doors opened on Tuesday. But he said the city is looking to open additional locations and extend opening hours in the spring and summer.
“There would have been many more options available to people in previous times, but clearly with COVID-19, many public spaces are closed,” he said.
“We are looking at what other options … we have available to us.” Because it’s obviously only the end of May, and we have at least three months to go before summer. “
The city said the centers are designed as a “last resort” for residents who do not have access to cool spaces, adding that strict infection prevention and control protocols are in place.
The City of Ottawa is opening four cooling centers in community centers from Tuesday to Thursday, asking those who visit them to wear cloth masks. They are being set up to allow physical distance and will include toilets and access to water, the city said in a statement.
Two cooling centers have been opened in London, Ontario, one at the Canada Games Aquatic Center and one at the South London Community Center, the city said in a tweet.
The Hamilton Central Library branch was also scheduled to open Tuesday afternoon and evening, then Wednesday. However, “library materials and services are not available,” the library tweeted.
Officials in Kitchener, Ontario have tweeted that the city is working with local health officials to find cooling center options and will share more details when possible.
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on May 26, 2020.