It's a hot one: Soaring summer temps add to RI's pandemic challenges

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If the recent heat wave has felt especially unbearable, that would be a fair assessment.

According to NBC10 meteorologist and Johnston native Anthony Macari, a heat wave is classified as a minimum of three days “at or above 90 to qualify,” and Rhode Island was up to six as of July 30.

He said this is especially rare, as only four other heat waves in the state have lasted as long, with the most recent coming in July 2008. The state was knocking on the door of its seven-day record, which has happened four times – including as recently as late July through early August of 2006.

Overall, the state has amassed 14 days at or exceeding 90 degrees in 2020, with Macari’s statistics coming from T.F. Green Airport. That’s nearly halfway to the 1983 record of 30 days, while 2002 and 2018 had 26 and 21 days of such heat, respectively.

However, the 2019 total of 12 has already been surpassed and so has the 30-year average of the same figure. In short, it’s been a hot one.

“We’ve had periods of extreme heat in past summers, but the humidity makes it an even more challenging time,” Department of Health public information officer Joseph Wendelken said last week. “I would say that probably the most important thing is to make sure that you stay hydrated. You want to drink plenty of fluids. Water is really the best fluid, you want to stay away from alcohol or drinking too many caffeinated beverages. Those things tend to dehydrate you.”

Despite Monday offering another instance of 90-degree weather, most of the state was in for a minor reprieve as the forecast showed mostly low to mid-80s for the week.

Wendelken offered some tips on beating the oppressive conditions, saying those who do not have to be outside should “avoid strenuous activities” during the hottest parts of the day. If people do have to be outside for work, Wendelken said to drink fluids, take breaks and find cooler areas to rest.

“Just be aware of your body and what are the signs your body is telling you,” Wendelken said. “For example, if you’re starting to feel nauseous or you’re vomiting, that’s a concern, or rapid breathing or increased heart rate is a concern. These are things that are connected to something called heat stroke, which is a very serious condition. It can lead to serious damage to your organs like your heart, your kidneys. Those are some of those signs people really want to pay attention to.”

Wendelken said cooling centers are available throughout the state for those without a home, and a full overview of locations can be found on the Department of Health’s website.

While heat waves aren’t uncommon in Rhode Island, its intersection with a pandemic certainly is. Wendelken said that, while gathering in large groups at a cooling center can be tough to manage, the state is prepared to keep people safe.

“We’ve done some education and some trainings with people who oversee those cooling centers so they can take measures to keep people safe,” Wendelken said. “For example, making sure people are wearing masks and making sure people are doing social distancing, so that’s been a bit of a complication that we’ve had to work through to make sure that with this one health issue we’re not doing more harm than in another area.”

Wendelken said older adults and those with underlying conditions especially should avoid the heat and stay hydrated. He said that if people have neighbors or loved ones who fit that description, they should continue to check on them when conditions are tough.

“People can take cool showers or baths to cool down. That always helps. But it’s specifically important to keep in mind that if you have a neighbor or a loved one who is an older adult, it’s a good idea to check in on them,” Wendelken said. “Make sure they're doing OK, especially during times of extreme heat, and make sure to ask if you can help them with anything.”

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