New: Resources to Protect Health from Summer Heat & COVID-19

Learn more about NRDC’s response to COVID-19.

A new online resource site from the Global Heat Health Information Network (or GHHIN) is launching today, with an array of science-based resources on coping with heat during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Global Heat Health Information Network (GHHIN) is a global partnership spearheaded by the World Meteorological Organization / World Health Organization Joint Climate and Health Office, and the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. GHHIN focuses on providing information to protect people from avoidable heat-health risks in a changing climate. NRDC is a member of GHHIN’s ad-hoc steering committee.

That changing climate is fueling more intense extreme heat more frequently than ever before. The last five years (2015 to 2019) saw the hottest average global temperatures ever recorded, and longer, hotter heatwaves on every inhabited continent.

And now, responding to the global COVID-19 pandemic is foremost in people’s minds.

Communities large and small around the world are facing questions about how to cope simultaneously with these two huge health threats, one brand-new (COVID-19) and one long-standing (extreme heat). No one has had to simultaneously combine and implement COVID-19 protections and extreme heat protections before.

The cascade of health impacts that could follow from the Northern Hemisphere’s summer while we are still under a pandemic is a very real concern. And, to complicate matters further, many of the same people whose health is especially vulnerable to extreme heat are also highly vulnerable to COVID-19. These overlapping vulnerabilities include older adults (especially those over age 85 years); people with pre-existing heart, lung, or kidney ailments;  people who are obese or have diabetes; people living in nursing homes; people who are socially marginalized; and people with economic disadvantage or inadequate housing. These vulnerabilities don’t affect all places and communities equally, highlighting the need for response strategies that can also reduce health inequities.

Besides a short summary on how to promote heat-health safety and COVID-19 prevention, GHHIN will publish a series of Frequently Asked Questions on a range of topics at this site, including: 

  • Outdoor cool spaces
  • Cooling centers
  • Seasonality of COVID-19 and weather
  • Ozone air pollution, heat, and COVID-19
  • Vulnerable populations
  • Personal Protective Equipment and heat stress
  • Health workers and heat stress
  • Fever vs. heat stress
  • Air conditioning and ventilation

While some of GHHIN’s online resources are geared toward people who develop and coordinate heatwave preparedness and response efforts, there’s useful info there for everyone. Heat isn’t just an inconvenience—it can kill, and it does. Individual heat waves have killed hundreds (California 2006, Chicago 1995) to thousands (India 2015) to tens of thousands (Europe 2003). The United States sees 65,000 heat-related emergency room visits on average each year. The information on GHHIN’s site could help you prevent a trip to the doctor to treat a heat-related illness.

Health care professionals, first responders, and public health systems are already stressed by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, so we help them when we strive to stay healthy. This summer brings added complications. Many communities won’t be operating municipal cooling centers, due to restrictions on shared public spaces and avoiding close proximity. That makes it more important than ever to keep housing and A/C well-maintained and affordable to enable families to stay at home.

Even in this time of physical distancing and face masks, public parks and green spaces help to keep neighborhoods cool and provide a mental and physical break from hot urban homes. Providing equitable access to green spaces is more important than ever, particularly for communities of color being hit extra hard by the pandemic.

Staying cool and hydrated at home will be a must this summer, more than ever. GHHIN’s updates about heat awareness and COVID-19 protection could become useful additions to our summer reading lists.

About the Authors

Kim Knowlton

Senior Scientist and Deputy Director, Science Center

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