11 people died from heat in 2023, BC Coroners Service says on anniversary of 2021 heat dome

The BC Coroners Service says 11 people were killed from heat-related causes in 2023 and is urging people in British Columbia to take “extra care” as we head into the hottest part of the year.

The BCCS says all 11 deaths occurred between May and August, with 80 per cent of the deaths happening in July and August last year.

The coroner found two-thirds of the deaths were among people over the age of 60, with men accounting for almost three-quarters of all the recorded heat-related deaths.

“Extreme heat can have devastating consequences. In June and July 2021, 619 people died due to record-high temperatures in British Columbia,” the coroner stated Wednesday.

The heat dome descended on the Pacific Northwest between June 25 to July 1, 2021. It was the single deadliest weather event in Canadian history. Temperatures in some places in B.C. soared into the mid-to-low 40s, while Lytton saw the mercury rise to just shy of 50 degrees Celsius.

The deaths in 2021 were most concentrated in the Lower Mainland, specifically in the Burnaby, New Westminster, and Vancouver regions.

The coroner’s service is urging residents to check in on family, friends, and neighbours, especially those living alone when the temperature heats up.

“Visit cooler environments, such as cooling centres, malls, libraries and other air-conditioned community spaces; stay hydrated and avoid physical activities outside; and never leave children or pets alone in a parked car,” it added.

B.C.’s senior advocate, Dan Levitt tells CityNews that his office took part in the coroners’ death review panel, and found that most of the deceased were older adults with compromised health conditions.

“They had multiple chronic diseases, they were isolated or they lived alone,” he said.

Levitt says seniors they speak to are concerned about how to find a cooling centre, when they should leave their homes and go to the cooling centre, and how they will get there — in terms of transportation.

“Our office is continuing to monitor what’s happening and we’ll issue public reminders to seniors and caregivers during hot and dry weather months,” he said. “The critical thing is that communication, having transportation and making sure those cooling centres are available when seniors need them.”

Levitt says the key thing that came out of the review by the coroners service panel is making air conditioning available where seniors are living.

“We’ve seen those being introduced into long-term care and assisted living and into seniors homes based on affordability, and also seniors who are vulnerable,” he said. “We’d like to see that right across the board where seniors are living.”

He says the notification systems for heat waves have also gotten better, but they are still looking ways to improve the accessibility of cooling centres, especially in rural areas of B.C.

“We’re strongly encouraging seniors and their loved ones to have a heat plan,” Levitt said. “It should identify cool areas inside their house, where they live and also in the community, and have a plan of how to get there, and knowing ways to cool down.”

He says things like taking cool baths, taking showers, and having access to a cooling system are important and remind seniors to stay hydrated because seniors may lose the sense of thirst as compared to younger people.

“Make sure that even when you’re not thirsty, that you take liquid, especially during extreme heat,” Levitt said.

Levitt encourages young people to connect with older adults and let them know when temperatures increase.

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