How dual threats of heat and COVID-19 exacerbate threats to vulnerable communities

By Courtney Vinopal for PBS Newshour

As temperatures soared throughout the country in July, local and state officials had to adjust their crisis response plans to account for the ongoing threat of the coronavirus pandemic. Protecting Americans from the heat has been particularly challenging for areas of the country — such as Arizona, Texas and Florida — that are currently also experiencing a spike in cases of COVID-19.

“Now with COVID-19, and malls being closed, libraries being closed, many communities are not opening their cooling centers because they’re worried about not being able to ensure social physical distancing. And so you have these drivers of risk piling onto each other,” said Helene Margolis, a professor of environmental health at University of California, Davis.

For climate experts, these compounding public health crises are a warning of what communities could experience in the coming years as global warming worsens. Many say that if communities don’t change their current infrastructure, the most vulnerable could see their health endangered by rising heat and other natural disasters, even when the COVID-19 pandemic has slowed.

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