(WDTN) – Heat is the number one weather-related fatality in the United States.
The average number of heat-related deaths per year is still much lower than summer coronavirus deaths. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are more than 8,000 deaths in the U.S. related to COVID-19 in June. The 30-year average for heat-related deaths is 138 per year.
Dr. Jeffrey Weinstein is an Infectious Disease Specialist with Kettering Health Network. He said the spread of coronavirus is not decreasing like many hoped it would in the summer.
“Because this is generally a winter respiratory virus, at least this class of viruses called coronaviruses,” Weinstein said, “We were hopeful that when it became summertime and there was lots of sun and lots of heat that the infection would go away. However, as we are seeing in states like Florida where it’s hot and humid and sunny, and states like Arizona where it’s hot and dry and sunny there’s big epidemics going on right now.”
“It’s still there for 5, 10, 15 minutes or more and again the closer you are to someone who might be coughing the virus out or even breathing the virus out, even if you’re in an outdoor situation,” Weinstein said. “If you’re not wearing a mask, you certainly could still get infected.”
Weinstein encourages anyone in an area with a lot of people to wear a mask whether it’s inside or outside.
“If you are out on a country trail or out in the woods by yourself then you probably don’t need to wear a mask,” Weinstein said. “If you are walking down a busy city street with lots of other people around, or at the mall you should be able to wear a mask and most people should be able to tolerate that just fine even when it’s hot and humid outside.”
Health officials agree that it’s less likely to contract the virus outside. Dr. Randy Marriott is the Medical Director of the Premier Health EMS Center of Excellence.
“As far as coronavirus goes, being outdoor and socially distanced is fairly safe. You’ve got air movement and so forth helping you there,” Marriott said.
Marriott agrees wearing a cloth mask in the summer heat will not impact your breathing.
“Now for a tight-fitting, fit-tested actual respirator,” Marriott said, “yes, that’s going to increase your work of breathing. It’s going to decrease the amount of heat that you can exchange with breathing and could even cause some retention of carbon dioxide if you are exerting yourself. I think those factors are much less encountered with a simple face mask like most of us are wearing in public.”
Marriott said most people who suffer from heat related illnesses have an underlying medical issue.
“They’re on medications that make them more susceptible to heat illness,” Marriott said. “There’s a whole host of medications that would fall under that category so I would recommend discussing with the prescribing provider or your pharmacist whether you’re on a medication that would make you more prone to heat related illness.”
Marriott said someone may become irritable and show a little inattention if they are showing signs of overheating or dehydration.
Large crowds and summer events are when Marriott says they see patients with these symptoms the most. The Dayton Air Show is an example.
“Events such as this where you have large numbers of people in open areas, off and on asphalt surfaces,” Marriott said, “those tend to bring out heat illnesses. I tend to find it event related often, then a specific time of the year, and obviously the hotter the weather with a higher humidity the more risk there is.”
Large gatherings and events like the air show have been canceled this year due to the coronavirus.
“We don’t want to be crowded into tight places that also would cause you to be overheated, so what’s good for one is good for the other,” Marriott said.
However Marriott said coronavirus cases are increasing in the Miami Valley.
“We’ve had many COVID positive cases here recently and they are on the rise,” Marriott said. “So you do need to wear that mask.”
Weinstein warns about the spread of the virus in restaurants and office buildings.
“The virus can spread more than six feet away from the infected person, and it’s probably the air currents in that room that take the virus across the room,” Weinstein said. “The virus does not get into the ventilation system of a building and go from floor to floor or from room to room, but within one room it can move more than six feet,” Weinstein said.