Ottawa Public Health prepares for 'life-threatening' heat event

Ottawa Public Health (OPH) is cautioning residents about the dangers of intense heat as the city experiences a heat dome event.

During a meeting Monday, Ottawa's Medical Officer of Health Dr. Vera Etches said OPH has entered into an "enhanced response." This means making sure there are more places to cool down, ensuring shelters stay open during the day to help people stay cool, and having public facilities open longer, she said.

Etches also said a van will monitor the city 21 hours a day for people struggling from the heat.

"This is a life threatening event," she said.

Environment Canada issued heat warnings across eastern Ontario and parts of western Quebec on Sunday afternoon, with dangerously hot and humid conditions expected for most of the week.

Daytime highs could reach 35 C, with humidex values making it feel between 40 and 45 C, according to Environment Canada.

Temperatures are expected to stay high overnight, with lows ranging from 18 to 23 C, not accounting for the humidity.

Heat-related illnesses and fatalities

Etches said OPH is working with the city's extreme heat, cold and smog planning committee and focusing on raising awareness about the risks of intense heat, ways to reduce risks and promoting local resources.

"We have been preparing for these kinds of events for months," she said.

"We're adapting our own services within Ottawa Public Health to support residents at higher risk, and the city is adapting their programs, such as making pools more available and encouraging more outreach services."

She added that it is important to monitor for signs of heat-related illness, such as dizziness and nausea.

"Unfortunately, we could see more death. I expect that could happen as people have that multiple days of exposure," she said.

OPH offers an interactive map of places to stay cool throughout the city, including pools, libraries, splash pads and community centres. Public drinking fountains are also featured on the map.

Residents are being advised to avoid exercising during peak heat times and staying inside where possible.

Air quality warning, burn ban

A burn ban went into effect Tuesday evening for the City of Ottawa. All open air fires are prohibited, even with a permit. Ottawa Fire Services did not specify how long the ban would be in place.

And due to the heat, Environment Canada issued an air quality statement for regions north of Lake Ontario, including Napanee, at 10:52 a.m. Tuesday.

"Hot and sunny conditions are expected to cause increasing ground-level ozone concentrations," the statement said.

It said there's a moderate risk based on the air quality health index throughout Tuesday, potentially becoming high-risk for a short period in the afternoon or evening.

Environment Canada suggested the public visit its website to learn how to protect themselves. Children, the elderly, people working outdoors, people with diabetes, and people with lung or heart disease are at the highest risk, it said.

A map showing where the air quality statement applied, as of 10:52 a.m. on Tuesday. The grey area indicates the air quality statement. The red area indicates the heat warning, which is also in effect in the grey area.
The grey area indicates the area affected by Tuesday's air quality statement. Both the grey and red areas remains under a heat warning. (Environment Canada)

Everyone at risk

According to Michelle Goulet, public health inspector for OPH, everyone is at risk during this heat event but some more than others. Anyone who is experiencing homelessness, works outside or does not have an air conditioner is at higher risk.

Infants, elderly individuals and those who are pregnant are also considered to be at increased risk.

"Air conditioners are going to be working really hard, but people who don't have air conditioning need to try and take some steps to keep their homes cool," Goulet said.

She said covering windows is one way to keep heat from building up.

Goulet also suggested drinking water and avoiding drinks that can cause dehydration, such as alcohol and coffee.

For those who have to spend time in the sun this week, Goulet said portable shade, such as an umbrella, is a good option.

"Shade will make it feel even five degrees cooler than what it is if you're just blocking out that sun," she said.

A person carries an umbrella for shade as they walk on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, June 18, 2024, as temperatures hit 32C in what meteorologists are calling a heat dome.
A person carries an umbrella for shade as they walk on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, June 18, 2024. Temperatures hit 32 C during what meteorologists are calling a 'heat dome.' (The Canadian Pres/Sean Kilpatrick)

However, it may not be safe even when the sun goes down.

According to Gerald Cheng, meteorologist with Environment and Climate Change Canada, there will be little relief from warm temperatures at night.

"The overnight lows are not dropping below 20 degrees," Cheng said. "People can't escape the heat of the day."

He suggested staying up to date with programs offered by local municipalities for additional ways to beat the heat.

In a notice on Monday, the town of Smiths Falls announced daytime cooling centres are open this week at Smiths Falls Lions Club, Smiths Falls Memorial Community Centre and the Royal Canadian Legion on Main Street East.

The Township of Russell also announced daytime cooling centres will be available to Thursday at the town's Russell Branch library at 1053 Concession St. and the sports dome at 150 Sportsplex St.