Summers in Central Texas are dangerously hot. In the U.S., heat kills an average of 12,000 Americans every year, according to researchers at Duke University.
A new Climate Central report suggests COVID-19 could contribute to more heat-related deaths, because of social distancing. Limited access to those who are self isolated and restrictions on capacity at cooling centers this year could also make it difficult for people stay cool this summer.
Every year, the Salvation Army Waco hosts a fan drive as summers get hot. “There are households that need to have a fan to help move the hot air, especially if they don't have air conditioning. Last year, we distributed about 200 fans," said Commanding Officer Jim Taylor.
But this year, households that do not have access to air conditioning could be at higher risk for heat-related illness. In years past, the Waco Public Libraries have been popular spots for residents to go to stay out of the heat. This year however, COVID-19 has limited the capacity at the libraries.
“We don't have seats and places for people to go. People can come in, they can refresh, but as far as staying for any length of time, that's something that we've been discouraged in promoting this year," said Jessica Emmett, Community Services Supervisor for the Waco Public Library.
Seniors who are self isolated in homes and do not live in care facilities are at more risk, too. Social connection is the best defense for seniors against the extreme heat. “Staying hydrated is very important. Water, water, water is kind of your best friend during the summer heat," said Dr. John Snider at Baylor Scott & White Hillcrest.
COVID-19's devastating impact to the economy could also cause some households to not run the air conditioner in their homes efficiently. That's where organizations like the Salvation Army step in. ”Being able to provide them with something as simple as a fan, that might save their life and certainly improve their life. It's a blessing to be able to be the ones that are the intermediaries between the generous public and the needy," said Commanding Officer Taylor.
“If people want to donate, they can just go buy a fan and bring it to the Salvation Army. If they don't want to get out into public, they can order it and have it delivered, like from Amazon or something like that," Commanding Officer Taylor continued.
The Salvation Army told 25 News that a cooling center at Webster and 3rd Street in downtown Waco will open when temperatures reach 100 degrees. Chairs have been spaced out, meals are served to go, right now there is no intention to turn people away who want to keep cool if capacity is reached.
The United Way of Central Texas in Temple is also collecting fans. They ask that you call ahead at 254-768-8616 to arrange a drop-off time. Cooling centers are not being operated at this time in Bell or Brazos counties. If you are in need of a place to keep cool, call the facility before you arrive to make sure you are able to stay inside.