Heat deaths in Maricopa County hit half-year record

Maricopa County is experiencing a record number of heat deaths so far in 2022 and nonprofits say the most vulnerable are at risk.
Published: Jul. 19, 2022 at 4:30 PM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) — Heat-associated deaths in Arizona’s largest county hit a half-year record as more homeless people live unprotected outdoors in the desert city while summer temperatures soar into triple digits. Other cities around the U.S. and the world are also sweating through earlier, more intense and longer-lasting heat waves that scientists blame on global warming.

Recent data from the Maricopa County Department of Health shows 17 heat-associated fatalities were registered this year through the first week of July, with another 126 under investigation. The stats show 76% of those deaths involved people who were outdoors. The heat-associated deaths from the first half are far above those seen in the county during the same period in past years. There were 11 such fatalities in the first six months of 2021 with 107 more under investigation; four during that period in 2020 with another 48 under investigation; and three in 2019 with another 27 under investigation. The health department reported 339 heat-associated deaths for all of 2021.

Marty Hames with the nonprofit Circle The City says the impacts from this summer heat are the worst she has seen. “We were saying since the beginning of the year we knew this is going to be one of the worst years ever, and we are seeing the numbers increase dramatically in homelessness,” Hames said. “In that downtown area, with all the asphalt, it does feel warmer and hotter, so if you’re inside a tent with very little ventilation, it just increases everything.”

Hames says the nonprofit takes care of about 8,000 people a year, and this summer has been one of the most brutal so far. “What we are seeing is a lot of symptoms of heat exhaustion. We are always on the lookout for the more dangerous and deadly heat stroke and symptoms of that, and we see a lot of heat rash and burns from people falling asleep, maybe on the pavement,” she explained.

Circle The City recently launched a three-person Street Medicine Team who goes out daily in hard-hit areas and provides help to those who need it the most.

A heat wave also currently grips Europe with wildfires raging and officials asking people to stay home.

Arizona’s Family news staff contributed to this report.

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