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COVID-19 and heat wave present double danger in Western New York

In past summers, the City of Buffalo would be able to use community centers as cooling centers for seniors. But now with COVID, all six centers are closed.

With the sweltering week ahead, there is concern for the elderly and others with health conditions who may be more susceptible to heat exhaustion or other issues.

Erie County Medical Center Emergency Room Physician Dr. Brian Clemency says the lingering threat of COVID-19 just compounds the situation.

"So this is our first summer in the Northern Hemisphere with COVID and so this is uncharted territory for many of us," Dr. Clemency said.

That's a phrase we've heard before with this pandemic. And now with the arrival of this heat wave there is perhaps a doubling of the danger factor for senior citizens and others with respiratory issues or other health conditions.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says excess heat already kills over 650 people each year in the United States, and now Dr. Clemency says there is this additional factor.

"A patient with COVID could have a fever to begin with, and then a warm environment that they're not able to keep cool can only compound those conditions," Dr. Clemency said.

Dr. Clemency adds that even life-saving prescriptions can play a role in making things worse.

"Medications like antibiotics, cardiac medications, diabetic medications, and common pain relievers all can make patients, particularly elderly patients, more susceptible to heat emergencies," Dr. Clemency said.  

Then there's the living conditions. Some on a reduced income because of the COVID induced impact on the economy or even with fixed finances due to age may be stuck in hot apartments, and they may not be able to afford air conditioning to keep them cool and comfortable. 

In past summers, the City of Buffalo would be able to use community centers as cooling centers for seniors. But at this point with COVID, all six centers are closed.

Some specific seniors centers are also still shut down. Just about all libraries in the area have reopened and could be an option to help cool off those affected by the heat. But they also have limited seating and spacing requirements with the coronavirus. 

Malls are also still closed by state order ironically with Gov. Andrew Cuomo raising concerns about COVID spread and large scale air conditioning. Movie theaters may open later this month if the state gives its approval. 

A check with Erie County, City of Buffalo, and various town officials did not turn up any definitive plans or other options to assist at-risk individuals in the heat. Although there were designated COVID shelters in the colder weather of March. 

The CDC does offer specific COVID guidance on the use of cooling centers. 

And here in New York state public assistance programs have offered up air conditioning units to those in need with health problems. 

Other states out West have used publicly air conditioned hotel rooms and buses to get some folks out of the heat for a while. 

Whatever the case, Dr. Clemency says it may be more important than ever to check on elderly loved ones or neighbors especially as we still cope with COVID-19.

"So we're naturally telling people to socially isolate. And that may also make elderly patients more at risk because maybe they don't have friends or family checking in on them the way they normally would." 

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