Heat-related emergency room visits in the Pacific Northwest region surged at the end of June, when states including Oregon and Washington were gripped by a record-breaking heat wave, according to a new report (pdf) from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
As all-time temperature records were shattered in the region, the mean daily number of heat-related emergency room visits from June 25–30 surged to 424, which is about 70 times higher than during the comparable period in 2019, when there was no heat advisory in effect, the CDC said.
For the report, the CDC analyzed emergency room visits for hospitals in Alaska, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington, with the agency noting that the biggest impact of the heat wave was in Oregon and Washington.
At the same time, during the June 28 peak of the heat wave, there were 1,038 heat-related visits to emergency rooms in the states analyzed, compared to just nine on the same day in 2019.
“The June 2021 northwestern heat wave had a sizeable public health impact,” the report noted. “Health departments can develop and implement heat response plans, identify at-risk neighborhoods and populations, open cooling centers, and use data to guide public health policy and action to protect their communities from heat-related illness and deaths.”
The CDC said that since the data reflect emergency room visits only and don’t include people who sought treatment elsewhere, the report likely underestimated the prevalence of heat-related illness.
Officials have estimated that the heat wave led to nearly 200 deaths in the United States, with 116 in Oregon and 78 in Washington. In Multnomah County, Oregon, which includes the city of Portland, officials said there were at least 54 heat-related deaths.
“Because of the dedication of the death investigators of Multnomah County, we now know that at least 54 people in Multnomah County succumbed to this heat disaster,” said Deborah Kafoury, chair of the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners, in remarks to The Associated Press. “Many of them were our elders, those who need our care the most, and many were all alone.”
“The age range is from 48 to 97 with an average age of 70, so that affirms what we know, which is that older individuals are at higher risk of heat-related illness,” said Dr. Jennifer Vines, Multnomah County health officer, according to AP.
Besides elderly people, infants and young children, as well as those who are overweight or suffer from heart disease or high blood pressure, are particularly vulnerable to high heat, according to the CDC.