Dr LaQuandra Nesbitt2

Department of Health Director Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt along with other D.C. officials informed residents July 25 that special precautions were being put into place to protect all from the unusually hot climate conditions in the city. (Courtesy Photo)

More than 500 residents and visitors to the District had to be treated for illnesses amid the escalating heat index, which forced city officials to roll out an extended plan to provide water and cooling locations as a safety precaution.  The D.C. government’s 2016 Heat Emergency Plan was released July 25. City officials, including  Department of Health (DOH) Director Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt, Department of Human Services (DHS) Director Laura Zeilinger, Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) Director Keith Anderson, and Pecpo Holdings Senior Vice President Bill Gausman, told participants at the Greenleaf Recreation Center in Southwest that every possible contingency was covered for keeping residents and visitors safe.

The level of humidity rising with the temperatures is making the heatwave dangerous to residents, because of the rising heat index values. The heat index is a temperature “adjustment” relative to the human body’s ability to cool itself to maintain internal temperature; the same concept as the wind chill in the colder months. The higher the amount of moisture in the air (reflected by a type of temperature called the dew point), the less sweat evaporates off the skin or evaporation which would have taken excess body heat with it.

“Heat stroke is a serious illness characterized by a body temperature of greater than 105 degrees,” said Nesbitt. “Heat exhaustion is a milder form of heatstroke that may develop upon continued exposure to high temperatures. Both should be taken seriously.”

For some residents, like Tony Vargas, who works construction, being outdoors is a requirement of his job, but beating the heat has proven a challenge for many on his contracting team.

“We come out earlier than usual to try and get the most strenuous work done before the temperatures and humidity get really high, but even that has been a problem this week.  It’s getting oppressively hot by 10 a.m. and that means the bulk of the work is being done with the sun high,” Vargas told the AFRO.  “We have constant hydration mandates and so far the heat has not overwhelmed anyone to the point of illness, but it is very uncomfortable.”

And with the consecutive days above the mid-90s with oppressive heat indexes, several agencies have streamlined their services to address the immobility some will face in accessing resources.

For instance, to accommodate residents experiencing homelessness, low-barrier shelters will remain open 24/7 and the Adam’s Place Day Center will be open Saturday and Sunday from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. As they do during every heat emergency, United Planning Organization (UPO) vans will be canvassing various areas throughout the city for persons suffering from heat-related stress and to provide transport to one of the cooling centers.

“Our spray parks are safer and more fun than opening fire hydrants,” Anderson said at the press conference.  “Opening fire hydrants is prohibited. You can get hurt and you are using water that our firefighters may need to use to save your home or your life.”

The Capital Area Food Bank  also began delivering pallets of water throughout the D.C. area and set up a food and water distribution service for residents to take to their homes.

“Our main business is food, but in times like these water is even more essential than usual,” said Marian Barton Peele, a senior director with the food bank, who advised those who are able-bodied to check on neighbors who may be elderly or infirmed, as well as children who may be unable to express their discomfort.

Cooling centers will continue to open their doors early and maintain expanded hours, in addition to creating makeshift cooling centers at local libraries along the Metrorail lines throughout the heatwave.

Residents and visitors can find cooling center locations and tips for keeping cool online at heat.dc.gov.