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Hospital capacity, indoor temperatures under scrutiny in latest B.C. heat wave

The Lower Mainland’s third heat warning of the summer is concerning health officials and meteorologists, who warn that those British Columbians most at risk of heat-related-illness have been facing elevated temperatures for weeks. 

While being in warm temperatures and gradually acclimatizing to heat is generally a good thing, weeks of above-average temperatures have resulted in built-up heat in many homes, which has not dissipated to give people relief. 

“Cumulative heat exposure over the course of days can be especially impactful for health, (such as) in a situation where we're having warm temperatures on top of already relatively warm temperatures,” explained Dr. Michael Schwandt, medical health officer for Vancouver Coastal Health.

Those most at risk include seniors, people with mobility issues and disabilities, people with certain heart and lung conditions, those who have asthma, and those taking certain medications.

The BC Coroners Service says 16 people have already died from extreme heat this summer, but Schwandt points out many people suffering or struggling are not in those numbers.

“There's also a burden of illness we're seeing in the emergency rooms, hospitalizations, and that's affecting our health system in a broader way, too,” he added.


A heat wave in June was the first test of B.C.’s revamped emergency heat response system, which was overhauled after 619 people died in last year’s heat dome tragedy. 

The HEAT committee meets daily during heat warnings, and those involved say the process of determining when and how to respond to each heat event is getting better.

“It’s really good, we’re collaborating with partners and the message is getting out there,” said Environment Canada meteorologist Doug Lunquist. “We’re still ironing out bugs, of course, because it’s a criteria-based thing. If this one area triggers, maybe the other shouldn’t, and that sort of thing.”

He expects temperatures to drop over Friday and Saturday, before ramping up again with “no end in sight.” The committee is already looking at the trends 10 days out, he said.

“We’re talking to emergency managers ahead of time in the background, even before the public hears about it. We’re like ‘OK, this could happen, we need to be prepared for it,’” he said.


The coroner’s inquest into the heat dome tragedy found that nearly all the victims died indoors. The overnight temperatures during that deadly week at the end of June 2021 stayed high, keeping many people’s internal body temperatures dangerously high without relief. 

Despite that, there were no overnight cooling centres or options for those sweltering with nowhere to go. There still aren’t, but the temperatures aren’t forecasted to be that high this time around, and a Level 2 heat alert is not in place.

CTV News asked whether overnight temperatures, in particular, would prompt overnight cooling centres or some sort of alternative accommodations, particularly for those at highest risk. 

“A lot of partners – including Vancouver Coastal Health, BC Housing, the City of Vancouver – have a lot of work going on to monitor indoor temperatures and overnight (temperatures) to understand what's happening,” replied Schwandt, saying they’re looking at options depending on the conditions.

“Because it's indoor temperatures that end up being the greatest risk for many people.” Top Stories


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