The death toll from last week’s heat wave continues to climb and has now reached 20 Spokane County residents since July 1.
Most of these deaths happened in apartments or homes without air conditioning. And many of those who died also had underlying health conditions, which put them at higher risk during a heat wave. One of those who died was a homeless person.
Those who died from the heat wave ranged in age from 26 to 84, and they lived across the county, according to the Spokane County Medical Examiner. There is not one neighborhood or specific location where multiple deaths occurred thus far in data available.
There have been heat-related deaths in Spokane Valley, downtown Spokane, near Latah Creek and in northwest Spokane.
Not all deaths have been confirmed via address pending notification of next of kin.
And the death toll from the heat wave is expected to increase in the coming days.
In the state of Washington so far, the Department of Health has confirmed 78 deaths in 19 counties. This number is likely an undercount, however, because, for example, currently only two deaths are listed in Spokane County.
The number of deaths reveals how drastic the heat wave is. Throughout the summer in 2020, there were just seven heat-related deaths in the state, according to the Department of Health.
Climate science experts and meteorologists who released an analysis this week said the heat wave was more likely due to climate-change as well as noting it was a 1-in-1,000 year event, with the temperature records broken throughout the state.
With global warming and climate change, however, the intensity and frequency of such heat waves is expected to increase in coming years.
“This huge jump in mortality due to heat is tragic and something many people thought they’d never see in the Pacific Northwest with its mostly moderate climate,” said acting State Health Officer Scott Lindquist in a news release. “But climates are changing, and we see the evidence of that with dramatic weather events, major flooding, historic forest fires, and more.”
The Spokane City Council might seek to formalize planning for shelter space in the event of future heat waves. The city opened up cooling shelters during the heat wave, but Spokane City Council President Breean Beggs has introduced an ordinance to codify thresholds to enact an emergency plan in the future.
“I think the problem with the plan last week was, it wasn’t set up to attract the people who most needed to be there,” Beggs told The Spokesman-Review this week.
Experts recommend that cities and communities prepare for heat waves with heat action plans, which address exactly what needs to be done to alert the public, educate people about how to stay cool and work on improving access to shade, air conditioning or access to cooler locations when a heat wave hits.
“A heat action plan thinks about our climate as changing, we need to deal with this heat wave, but how are we going to manage the next one how are we going to deal with this in 20 years?” Dr. Kristie Ebi, a researcher at the Center for Health and the Global Environment the University of Washington, told The Spokesman-Review in late June.
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