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Maricopa County sees 1st heat-related death in 2021 as 2020 report shows record high cases

Posted at 10:33 AM, Jun 01, 2021

PHOENIX — The death of an older man has been confirmed as Maricopa County's first heat-related death of 2021.

A Maricopa County Department of Public Health representative said Tuesday that the man was found dead inside his home during a welfare check in May.

County officials say the death comes as the department released its 2020 heat report with a record high of 323 heat-related deaths in 2020.

The numbers are a 62% increase compared to 2019, and the highest since heat death tracking began in 2001.

Although the majority of heat-related deaths happen in July and August, officials say they can happen as early as April and as late as October every year.

“The tragedy of these deaths is that they are all preventable,” says Dr. Rebecca Sunenshine, medical director for disease control at MCDPH. “No matter your age or how long you’ve lived in the Valley, none of us are immune to its effects.”

The year 2020 was one of the hottest years on record, with over three times as many days with excessive heat warnings than the five-year average, county officials said.

Experts say more hotter-than-normal temperatures are on tap for this summer.

Although many believe those visiting Maricopa County are more likely to die from heat-related causes, county officials say otherwise.

“It is a myth that people can acclimate to the heat over time,” said Dr. Sunenshine.

Officials said most people who die from heat are Maricopa County residents who have lived here for many years.

In 2020, about two-thirds of all heat-related deaths were residents who lived in Arizona for 20 years or longer.

According to the Maricopa County 2020 heat report, over 80% of heat-related deaths were in men. More than half of the deaths in 2020 were among people experiencing homelessness. See the full 2020 report below.

Although indoor deaths were not a large number of all heat-related deaths, county officials say they are equally preventable. For those who died of heat-related deaths indoors, 82% had air conditioners present with about two-thirds of those air conditioners not working.

“This is why it is so important that we take the time to check on friends and neighbors who live alone, especially seniors or people with chronic medical conditions,” said Dr. Sunenshine. “Neighbors and loved ones should check on people before a tragedy occurs.”

Maricopa County offers the following tips to prevent heat-related illness:

  • Drink water before you get thirsty to prevent dehydration
  • Don’t rely on fans as your primary source of cooling once the temperature gets higher than 90 degrees, they don't work anymore
  • Come indoors frequently to an air-conditioned location to cool your core body temperature
  • Wear lightweight clothes
  • Never leave kids, pets, and others who may rely on you inside of a parked car
  • Check on friends and neighbors, especially the elderly, to make sure their A/C is functioning and turned on and that they are feeling OK
  • Seek medical care immediately if you have, or someone you know has, symptoms of heat-associated illness like muscle cramps, headaches, vomiting, confusion, no longer sweating, and rapid heart rate

The Maricopa Association of Governments has also released a heat relief station map HERE as well as ways people can donate water for those in need.