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Technical brief: Protecting health from hot weather during the COVID-19 pandemic

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COVID-19 amplifies the health risks of hot weather, presenting individuals and local decision-makers with new challenges on the optimal ways to stay safe from both hot weather and COVID-19. Communities around the world are facing unprecedented compound risks as the health and socio-economic impacts of the pandemic exacerbate already deadly heat risks.

The COVID-19 pandemic amplifies health risks for many people in hot weather. To reduce heat-related illness and loss of life authorities and communities should prepare for hot weather and heatwaves — in addition to managing COVID-19 — before extreme heat strikes.

The last five years (2015-2019) saw the hottest average temperatures ever recorded at a global scale, including more frequent, longer and hotter heatwaves on every inhabited continent. This year is also on track to be one of the hottest years on record and the same is true for the coming decade — consistent with climate change trends.

Authorities should expect and urgently prepare for hot weather and heatwaves, in addition to managing COVID-19. Common public health actions to reduce heat-related illness and death may need to be modified in locations where they are restricted, unavailable or in contradiction to public health measures to limit the transmission of COVID-19. These measures include: “leave hot apartments for public spaces”; “go to public air-conditioned locations such as cooling centers, shopping malls, and libraries”; “regularly check on vulnerable persons”; “use fans to cool rooms without air-conditioning”; and “seek urgent medical care if showing signs of heat stroke”.

Furthermore, hot weather conditions may complicate COVID-19 responses by increasing patient loads, and creating occupational health risks for health workers and responders.

This unprecedented situation highlights the need to clarify issues and decision-making options. This technical brief describes key considerations for decision-makers and practitioners on adapting existing plans, protocols and procedures for managing the risks of extreme heat during the COVID-19 pandemic. The accompanying Q&A series and checklists present further options, supporting evidence and resources to help all stakeholders and communities take informed action.