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Study: COVID-19 Could Increase Heat Deaths Among AZ Seniors

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Monday, June 29, 2020   

PHOENIX -- New research finds while Arizona's blazing summer heat already is dangerous for seniors, COVID-19 could increase those hazards as older folks are encouraged to be especially careful to avoid potential infection.

Public health officials, who note that three-quarters of Arizonans who have died from coronavirus were age 65 and older, have warned seniors to stay at home and limit contact with others. But AARP Arizona assistant director Steve Jennings said it's important for family members or other social networks to regularly check on seniors to make sure sheltering at home doesn't ultimately lead to tragedy.

"This COVID situation has thrown this whole thing into a whole other level of danger for older people, especially when the authorities are urging you to stay home," Jennings said. "And, you know, who is it that knows that you're OK in there?"

A new report by Climate Central, a collaboration between scientists and journalists, found seniors who live alone are the most likely to die from excessive heat, and 40% of Arizona's almost 200 heat-related deaths in 2019 occurred indoors.

Jennings said it is critical for families, neighborhood associations and community groups to locate and regularly check on older neighbors, adding that research has found Arizona seniors who live in mobile or manufactured homes are especially vulnerable to excessive heat.

"If there are individuals living alone, they need to be checked on repeatedly," he said. "[If] there is an old guy living in a house here and nobody sees them very much, the lawn isn't cut and the mail isn't always collected, that's a high level of risk going on with that person."

University of Washington climate researcher Kristie Ebi co-authored the report. She said the study found many seniors have neither the physical nor financial wherewithal to cope with extreme temperatures.

"The growing heat is compounded by the fact that populations are getting older. We've got more people with various chronic diseases," Ebi said. "So, we're looking at a period where these two trends are going to come together in ways that, unless actions are taken, the number of deaths will go up."

Regularly updated data on the COVID-19 pandemic from the Arizona Department of Health Services is available at AZDHS.gov

Disclosure: AARP Arizona contributes to our fund for reporting on Budget Policy & Priorities, Consumer Issues, Health Issues, Senior Issues. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.


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