Hot weather tips during a pandemic

Beautiful, warmer weather is in the forecast, but we all know this summer looks and feels different. With safety measures in place for COVID, we won’t be able to head to the air-conditioned comfort of movie theaters, malls, or even libraries. Pools, splash parks, and many beaches are closed. In previous summers, some cities have opened air-conditioned community spaces for the public to cool off. They won’t be able to open them this summer because with COVID circulating, it’s too risky to have groups of people close together in an enclosed space. Leave it to COVID to put a dark cloud on a sunny day!

So this summer, we’ll need to take other measures to cool off and be extra attentive to signs of overheating.

Who is likely to have serious health problems in hot weather?

HEAT mini comic English Full Color p08

Many of the same people who are higher risk for COVID-19 are also at higher risk for serious health impacts related to heat, such as heart problems, stroke, and kidney failure, as well as heat stroke. This includes people who take certain medications or have ongoing health conditions that make it harder for the body to regulate heat.  If you take medications or have a chronic health condition, check with your healthcare provider to see if the heat could create additional concerns.

Other people who may be more likely to have serious health problems in hot weather include anyone over 65 years of age, young children, and anyone who works or exercises outdoors.

Wearing a face covering in the heat

Wearing a face covering is a key measure to prevent the spread of COVID, but in hot weather, wearing one can also contribute to overheating. If possible, avoid spending time in hot indoor and outdoor spaces where you also need to wear a face covering. If you are in a public place and need to wear a face covering, take a safely distanced “mask break” if you are getting too hot and uncomfortable:

  • Go outside and make sure you are distanced from others by at least 6 feet.
  • Remove your face covering to breathe and cool down.
  • Put the mask back on before returning to the venue or activity where the mask is required.

Hot weather tips for the great outdoors

After spending so much of this year indoors, it feels great to be outside. If you are visiting with anyone outside your household (the limit is five people per week per household under the Governor’s Phase Two requirement), an outside visit is also much safer than indoors.

When it’s hot outside, some simple steps prevent overheating:

  • Drink lots of water, even if you aren’t feeling thirsty. Avoid caffeinated, high-sugar, and alcoholic drinks which can make you lose body fluid.
  • Stay in the shade and avoid the hottest hours in the late afternoon.
  • Wear loose, light clothing and a hat with a brim.

If you work outdoors, carry a water bottle. Check with your supervisor about adjusting your work hours to start earlier on hot days, when it’s cooler. During hot weather, workers should be encouraged and allowed to take frequent breaks to be in the shade and drink water.

Outdoor recreation and COVID considerations

The cooler morning and evening hours are better times for outdoor recreation on hot days.

King County Parks are open consistent with the state’s Phase Two Safe Start guidelines. When you arrive at a park or hiking trail, check to see if you will be able to stay at least six feet away from others. If it’s too crowded, find a different place to go.

At local beaches, there may not be lifeguards. Never swim alone, and use lifejackets if they’re available.

You can find out about which King County parks are open on the King County Parks’ COVID-19 response page.

Staying cool when at home is the new norm

If you are like most people in King County, you don’t have air conditioning. You may also spend more time than ever at home. Here are things you can do to stay cooler when it’s hot:

  • Keep window blinds or curtains closed when outdoor temperatures skyrocket.
  • Turn off unnecessary lights and unplug unused electrical equipment that can add heat to a room.
  • Cool down by taking a tepid shower or bath, or put ice cubes in a washcloth and hold against the back of your neck.
  • Avoid hot and heavy meals that can raise your body temperature.
  • Ventilate and cool your house off in the evening or early morning, if possible, when temperatures are cooler.
  • Consider getting a box fan (usually available for $40 or less) which can provide some relief.
  • Turn on a sprinkler or fill a wading pool for kids (and pets and even adults) for some cooling water play.

More heat tips

These illustrations include more tips for hot weather, including what to do for emergencies like heat stroke. Note: the illustrations were created in pre-COVID times, so do not include the wearing of face coverings that are now required in public settings.

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Originally posted on July 24, 2020.

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I am a risk communications specialist at Public Health - Seattle & King County.