A combination of poor air quality and blistering heat has Baltimore City officials worried about the health of the local population. Their concern has prompted the Baltimore Health commissioner, Dr. Leana Wen, to weigh in on the possibility of declaring Code Red, a multi-faceted government proactive response to combat the hazardous effects of excessively warm weather. According to Wen’s report, Baltimore is now on the verge of declaring its first Code Red for the summer months.
Although Wen stated that summer heat was not quite extreme enough to warrant a local government response as of yet, she added “it’s pretty close”. This is on the heels of a prediction made by meteorologists that a heatwave will manifest itself in Baltimore as early as Wednesday, June 13th, and will carry well into the weekend. Temperatures could reach as high as the mid-90s in Baltimore, but experts predict the weather conditions to feel closer to 100 degrees.
According to the Health Department, one of the major criteria for declaring Code Red is that the heat index reaches or exceeds 105. The heat index is an assessment of how hot the temperature actually feels after factoring in other elements such as wind chill and humidity. Under the right conditions, temperatures could be in the 90s but feel much hotter – such as this prospective heatwave.
When Code Red is declared, multiple cooling shelters are authorized throughout the city to protect vulnerable populations from the elements. These shelters will be open on weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. For a for list of cooling shelter locations, go online to http://health.baltimorecity.gov/coderedinfo. In addition, health officials will hold informative lectures to educate the public on how to avoid heat exposure, and they will also work with local programs to ensure the safety of elderly citizens, as well as other groups who could be in need of relief.
Last year, Code Red was declared a total of four times over the summer. One Baltimore resident died of hyperthermia from the heat.
Heat is not the only factor in declaring Code Red for Baltimore. Earlier, a Code Orange air pollution warning was already issued for the area from Air Now, a government partnership comprised of members from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Park Service, and other federal organizations. Under a Code Orange warning, the air quality may be harmful to children, the elderly, and people with heart or lung conditions.
The air’s potential danger is due to an increase in the levels of carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, and ozone pollution. These are all factors that the EPA is responsible for measuring when determining what’s known as the Air Quality Index (AQI). The AQI runs on a scale of 0 (good air quality) all the way to 500 (“hazardous)”. Baltimore’s AQI was 101, which classified the air as “unhealthy to sensitive groups” by just over one point.
A written statement by Wen urged Baltimore City residents to stay indoors whenever possible, and to “stay hydrated with water”. She also recommends sufferers of asthma avoid any physical labor while outside. Beyond that, children and pets should not be left on their own in closed vehicles, and residents should avoid alcohol and caffeine to stave off possible dehydration. Of course, health officials recommend Baltimore residents seek air-conditioning whenever they can.
According to the Health Department, symptoms of heat exhaustion or stoke can present themselves as feeling dizzy, nauseous, confused, overheated, dried out, or clammy. If anyone is experiencing these symptoms, they are advised to call 911 for proper assistance. In addition, citizens may call 311 if they are unsure of whether or not the city is currently under a Code Red heat emergency. This number will provide an immediate answer as well as additional resources that could potentially help save lives in these upcoming warm months.