B.C.'s seniors advocate Isobel Mackenzie says the "sobering" preliminary findings from the B.C. coroner about the deaths sustained during June's heat wave should serve as a reminder to check up on elderly friends and relatives during hot weather.
Environment Canada has issued heat warnings for Metro Vancouver, Howe Sound, the Sunshine Coast, Fraser Valley and eastern Vancouver Island. It also issued a special weather statement for a large swath of the province beyond that. Temperatures are expected to peak at around 30 C Friday and Saturday on the South Coast.
These warnings come a month after an unprecedented heat dome hit B.C., where more than 100 all-time records were shattered across Western Canada. Several B.C. communities had temperatures that soared higher than 40 C.
B.C.'s Chief Coroner Lisa Lapointe said there were 815 sudden deaths recorded during the heat dome. Lapointe confirmed Thursday that 570 of the 815 sudden deaths recorded over that time period — 70 per cent — have been deemed "heat related."
According to Lapointe, 79 per cent of those who died were 65 or older.
Mackenzie said it's important to remember that heat waves are not merely uncomfortable, but deadly for many vulnerable people.
"So where you and I may simply be very, very uncomfortable, someone who is 85 or 90 is going to experience — if not a serious outcome — they're going to experience death," she told Gloria Macarenko, host of CBC's On The Coast.
While Mackenzie said there are many important cooling measures people can take — drinking lots of cool liquids, using cool cloths, and taking showers — she urged those with elderly relatives to consider moving them to a cooling centre, or an air-conditioned place like a mall, for as long as possible during the heat wave.
"Just as we evacuate people from places because of flooding and fire, there are going to be some places where the ambient temperature simply is unsafe for that person to remain there," she said.
Mackenzie advises people to check in on and visit elderly friends and family when possible, noting that many seniors with limited mobility might not be able to open windows for cooling during the night, for example.
"They talk to their family and say, 'I'm fine.' They think they're fine because they don't realize how quickly it's going to overwhelm them and how delicate their systems are," she said.
"That's clearly what we saw in the fatalities."
She recommends visiting bc.211.ca or calling 211 to find a cooling centre and assistance in finding a way to get there.