The first heat death of 2021 in Maricopa County has been confirmed in a male older adult. This comes as Maricopa County Department of Public Health (MCDPH) releases the 2020 heat report, with a record high of 323 heat-related deaths in 2020. This is 62% higher than in 2019 and the highest number recorded since heat surveillance began in 2001.
While the majority of heat-related deaths occur in July and August, they can occur as early as April and as late as October each year. Last year was one the one of the hottest years on record with almost 3 times as many days with excessive heat warnings than the five-year average.
“The tragedy of these deaths is that they are all preventable,” says Dr. Rebecca Sunenshine, medical director for disease control at MCDPH. “No matter your age or how long you’ve lived in the valley, none of us are immune to its effects.”
Many people believe that visitors to Maricopa County are more likely to die from heat-related causes, however, this is not true. “It is a myth that people can acclimate to the heat over time,” said Dr. Sunenshine. Most people who die from heat are Maricopa County residents who have lived here for many years. Last year, about two-thirds of all heat-related deaths occurred in residents who had lived in Arizona for 20 years or longer.
The full heat report for 2020 is now available at heataz.org. Other numbers to note from the report include:
- Over 80% of heat-related deaths were in men
- Blacks and American Indians/Native Americans had the highest rates of heat-related deaths
- Over half of the deaths in 2020 were among individuals experiencing homelessness
- This number is more than double the year prior
- About 15% of deaths occurred indoors, with 85% occurring outdoors, the highest proportion of outdoor deaths there has been since heat surveillance started
Indoor deaths were not a large proportion of all heat-related deaths but are equally preventable. Of those who passed away indoors, 82% had an air conditioner present, with about two-thirds of those air conditioners not functioning.
“This is why it is so important that we take the time to check on friends and neighbors who live alone, especially seniors or people with chronic medical conditions,” said Dr. Sunenshine. “Neighbors and loved ones should check on people before a tragedy occurs.”
People suffer heat-associated illness when their bodies are unable to compensate and properly cool themselves. To prevent heat-associated illness, follow these safety tips:
- Drink water before you get thirsty to prevent dehydration
- Don’t rely on fans as your primary source of cooling once the temperature gets higher than 90 degrees, they don't work anymore
- Come indoors frequently to an air-conditioned location to cool your core body temperature
- Wear lightweight clothes
- Never leave kids, pets, and others who may rely on you inside of a parked car
- Check on friends and neighbors, especially the elderly, to make sure their A/C is functioning and turned on and that they are feeling OK
- Seek medical care immediately if you have, or someone you know has, symptoms of heat-associated illness like muscle cramps, headaches, vomiting, confusion, no longer sweating, and rapid heart rate
Maricopa County Public Health works with partners across the county through the Heat Relief Network to provide resources to people who need them to get through the summer months. The range of assistance offered by the network includes utility assistance, cooling centers, water distribution centers, evening heat relief for people who are homeless and unsheltered, and more.
The full report, along with a map of cooling centers and other resources to help people through the summer, is available at HeatAZ.org. The website and resources are also available in Spanish at CalorAZ.org.