‘Help the people we love by checking in’: County and partners plan for hot weather during COVID-19

May 28, 2020

Under normal circumstances, the Hollywood Senior Center serves as a refuge for older adults and others who need to escape the life-threatening dangers of hot weather. But with the COVID-19 pandemic preventing people from gathering, staff are finding new ways to support the community.

During hot weather and COVID-19, seek the shade while you keep distance from people who aren't members of your household

“Our approach this summer is different,” said Amber Kern-Johnson, the Hollywood Senior Center executive director. “We are really relying heavily on resource sharing and telephone communication.”

The summer heat hasn’t come yet, but Kern-Johnson said she knows it will — and soon. The center isn’t wasting any time preparing to support its 2,500 members. That includes contacting members to check on them, connecting them with education and resources, and offering a limited number of fans to participants in need.

Then there’s the mental and emotional aspects of supporting at-risk people who already might be feeling isolated after months of staying home to stay safe. Now more than ever, Kern-Johnson said, it’s important for people to check in with those in their lives who might be vulnerable.

“We all can help the people we love by checking in with them, asking if they’re doing OK, and asking how we can support them,” she said.

Even though many providers are physically closed, they are often still providing virtual and remote services. Kern-Johnson urges those who need help to reach out. A network of partnering organizations is working tirelessly to connect people with the resources they need to navigate the pandemic — and the upcoming summer weather.

Kern-Johnson remains inspired by many of the senior center’s participants, who have shown strength as they navigate the pandemic and its unexpected effects.

“I’ve been so impressed by the resiliency and strength of all of our community, especially older adults, who have found ways to navigate this new environment,” she says. “They’re going to find ways through periods of excessive heat.” 

Staying cool where we are

On a regular summer day, many of us are able to spend time at swimming pools, community centers, shopping malls and public “splash pads,” says Jennifer Masotja, emergency manager for the Department of County Human Services.

But because of the pandemic, many of these spaces will be less accessible. For example, interactive fountains and splash pads managed by Portland Parks and Recreation will remain off this summer, due to the pandemic. 

“We have limited access to some of our normal cooling activities,” Masotja says. 

This year, the County will focus on helping people stay cool in their own homes and physically distant in shady public spaces to slow the spread of COVID-19. 

A few simple ways you can stay cool where you are is by drinking more water, avoiding alcohol and sugary drinks, taking a cool shower or bath, wearing light or loose clothing, and using fans.

Warm weather in May prompts Portlanders to seek some sun

“It is so important to manage your own cooling and help those around you,” Masotja says, agreeing that it’s especially important to check in on neighbors. 

“People who are high-risk of severe illness are also in the same category as people who can be at higher risk of heat illness,” says Dr. Jennifer Vines, Multnomah County’s health officer. “I remain most concerned about those who are most vulnerable to the virus and to the effects of the hot weather.”  

The overlap, Dr. Vines says, is among the elderly, people with underlying illnesses and communities of color. This is why it will be critical this summer to check in – especially with those who are more vulnerable.

“The best thing people can do is check on their elderly neighbors with a phone call or a knock on the door,” says Dr. Vines. “Make sure they’re able to stay cool and have what they need.” 

For more tips on how to stay cool this summer, visit multco.us/help-when-its-hot.

Tips for staying cool

  • Drink more water than usual, don’t wait until you are thirsty.

  • Avoid alcohol and sugary drinks.

  • Take a cool shower or bath.

  • Use a fan to create cross-ventilation.

  • Wear light and loose clothing.

  • Avoid using your stove or oven.

Heat Exhaustion: Mild heat illness

Signs are:

  • Rapid heart beat and shallow breathing

  • Heavy sweating

  • Extreme weakness

  • Dizziness

  • Nausea, vomiting 

What to do:

  • Remove excess clothing

  • Rest in a cool area

  • Drink plenty of water

  • Take a cool shower, bath, or sponge bath. 

Heat Stroke: The body cannot control temperature, can lead to death or disability. 

Signs are:

  • 103 degree temperature or above

  • Confusion

  • Rapid pulse

  • Loss of coordination

  • Hot, dry skin or profuse sweating

  • Throbbing headache

  • Seizures, coma 

What to do for someone with heat stroke:

  • Call 911.

  • Move to a cool, shaded area.

  • Offer water

  • Offer a cool shower, bath, or sponge bath