The heat wreaked havoc on Chicagoland over the last week as the temperature rose above 100 degrees for three days in a row. The temperatures set a record.
City-run temporary cooling centers were made available around town and heat advisories urged caution, including drinking plenty of water. The soaring temperatures led Chicago Public Schools to take “precautionary measures” and cancel summer classes for all schools Friday, after canceling them for select schools the day before.
“Due to the excessive heat throughout Chicago, we have determined that it is in the best interest of our students and instructional staff to cancel summer school for the day,” said CPS CEO Jean-Claude Brizard.
Temperatures ranged Wednesday to Friday from a blistering 100 to 105 degrees, each with a heat index that made it feel up to eight degrees hotter. The Cook County Medical Examiner’s office confirmed that 18 people died as a result of the heat.
By Saturday evening, temperatures dipped slightly to more bearable 80s and are expected to stay there through the week.
The number of deaths during this heat wave was far lower than the 465 heat-related deaths that the Chicago area saw in 1995 when temperatures soared into the 100s and, with the heat and humidity combined, the heat index reached as high as 119. Images of hearses lined up outside the county morgue, located on the West Side, were prevalent.
The elderly, children and people with chronic health conditions, including diabetes and heart disease, are most likely to be impacted by the heat, medical officials point out. A CDC report on the 1995 heat-related deaths in Cook County revealed that 55 percent of the deceased were males — half of them Black men; 49 percent of the dead were Black; and 51 percent of those who succumbed to the heat were over the age of 75.
A local family doctor told the Chicago Citizen that some medical conditions lead to death in the heat mostly because of dehydration.
“With the heat, you begin to get dehydrated and lose a lot of your fluids in your body. Once your body starts to try to compensate for (that), it puts stress on your heart and the rest of your body,” said Dr. Charles Barron, southeast region medical director for Access Community Health Network. ACHN has over 215,000 patients in 60 centers located in the city and suburbs.
Still some deaths could be prevented when precautions are taken.
“Heat-related mortality is preventable. The most effective measures for preventing heat-related illness and death include reducing physical activity, drinking additional nonalcoholic liquids, and increasing the amount of time spent in air-conditioned environments,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The National Weather Service forecast puts the Chicago area back in the 90s on Friday and through the weekend. County, city and medical professionals, including Barron, say that the community will have to continue to step up and look after those most vulnerable to the heat.
“Family members need to check on seniors or the people (they) know don’t have air conditioning,” said Barron. “Also make sure we’re helping those who have health conditions get to cooling centers.”
He explained that community organizations, including churches, could also offer outreach by doing well-being checks or opening their doors to people to help them keep cool. He said his office on the Southwest Side proactively made calls to all of its patients over age 65 ahead of last week’s heat wave to make sure they had resources to cope with the heat.
The City of Chicago offers advice on reducing the risk heat-related illness or death:
· Drink plenty of water, at least eight glasses a day to avoid dehydration; and ensure that children stay well hydrated;
·Visit one of the City’s temporary cooling centers: Chicago police district headquarters; all 79 Chicago Public Library locations during public hours of operation; and other public buildings;
· Contact local Chicago Park District facilities to find out about beach and park hours and programs.
· Call 3-1-1 for the nearest City Cooling Center located within the six Community Service Centers operated by the Department of Family and Support Services (DFSS).
By Rhonda Gillespie