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Regional Interests

Oregon heat wave linked to hospitalizations and drownings

Three days of record breaking heat are taking their toll on Oregonians.

Around 200 Oregonians have visited emergency departments or urgent care centers due to heat-related illness since the heat wave began Friday, according to data published by the Oregon Health Authority.

In Multnomah County alone, 43 people went to emergency departments or urgent care centers due to heat-related illness over the weekend. On a typical June day, there are zero or one cases of heat stroke reported.

The visits this weekend alone represent nearly half the heat illness visits the county typically sees during an entire summer.

In Yamhill County, two people went missing while swimming in the Willamette River on Saturday. In Bend, advocates working at an encampment of people who are homeless found two men dead over the weekend, and suspect they succumbed to the heat. The causes of both men’s deaths are currently under investigation.

“People’s bodies are stressed,” said Dr. Jennifer Vines, the Multnomah County health officer. “My main message is to take this for the serious health threat that this is.”

The heat may have also contributed to a surge in use of emergency services.

On Sunday, Multnomah County EMS received over 410 calls for service — a record number — resulting in about 260 people transported to health care.

By 2:30 p.m. Monday, the temperature at the Portland Airport had reached 113 degrees, breaking the all-time records set over the previous two days. The National Weather Service reported a record-smashing 116 degrees in Salem. In response, health departments across the state are urging people to make a plan for how to stay cool, take advantage of cooling centers, and check on neighbors and family.

Vines said three factors have combined to make the current heat wave a health emergency: the record-shattering high temperatures during the day, the uncharacteristically warm nights that aren’t giving people a real break from the heat, and the unusual timing of the heat wave so early in the summer.

Vines said it takes one to two weeks for our bodies to acclimate to higher temperatures. But this early in the summer, that process of adaptation hasn’t happened yet.

“For such an early extreme heat wave, without that break at night, we knew that this was going to be life threatening. That’s how we talked about it from the beginning,” Vines said.

In Portland, temperatures are almost 40 degrees higher than normal for this time of year. A normal daily high in June is 73 degrees, according to the National Weather Service.

Temperatures became so extreme in Portland that the city halted all MAX light rail trains until Tuesday.

Several of Oregon’s older prisons don’t have air conditioning, putting vulnerable people at significant risk. The Oregon State Penitentiary and the Oregon State Correctional Institution in Salem, as well as the Shutter Creek Correctional Institution near Coos Bay, all rely on “alternative cooling methods” like swamp coolers, fans and “providing access to ice water for [Adults in Custody] and staff,” the Oregon Department of Corrections said in a statement.

“DOC makes every attempt to keep the adults in our custody and employees comfortable during summer heat waves,” the agency said. “Each of our institutions has plans for inclement weather; modifications vary by location based on infrastructure and other dynamics.”

Civil rights attorney Juan Chavez said he’s heard from some people in custody that faucets are only dispensing hot water and fans are moving around the hot air.

“There’s not ice on every unit,” Chavez said. “If there is ice brought to those units, there’s not enough for everybody. And tensions are high. People are rightfully getting concerned for their own health and safety because they can’t protect themselves.”

While temperatures are forecast to relent for much of western Oregon in the afternoon and evening hours Monday, Central and Eastern Oregon will continue to experience near or above 100 degrees for the remainder of the week.

Christy Wilding of Portland stayed overnight with her two dogs at a cooling center at the Oregon Convention Center  in Portland, June 28, 2021. The cooling center provided water, snacks, meals, blankets, and cots or mats for sleeping.
Kristyna Wentz-Graff /
Christy Wilding of Portland stayed overnight with her two dogs at a cooling center at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland, June 28, 2021. The cooling center provided water, snacks, meals, blankets, and cots or mats for sleeping.
Hundreds have sought shelter at a cooling center at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland, June 28, 2021. The cooling center provided water, snacks, meals, blankets, and cots or mats for sleeping.
Kristyna Wentz-Graff /
Hundreds have sought shelter at a cooling center at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland, June 28, 2021. The cooling center provided water, snacks, meals, blankets, and cots or mats for sleeping.
Johnny Daniels of Portland cools off in the Ira Keller Fountain Park, June 28, 2021.
Kristyna Wentz-Graff /
Johnny Daniels of Portland cools off in the Ira Keller Fountain Park, June 28, 2021.
Stella Hartfield, 17, left, and her boyfriend Orion Crofut, 19, both of Lake Oswego, took to the Willamette River in Portland to cool off, June 28, 2021.
Kristyna Wentz-Graff /
Stella Hartfield, 17, left, and her boyfriend Orion Crofut, 19, both of Lake Oswego, took to the Willamette River in Portland to cool off, June 28, 2021.
Cultivate Initiatives co-director Y’Ishia Rosborough of Portland cools off with dog “Hades” at a cooling station put on by Cultivate Initiatives at Sunrise Center in Portland, June 28, 2021. Currently the center plans to remain open until Wednesday at 9 AM.
Kristyna Wentz-Graff /
Cultivate Initiatives co-director Y’Ishia Rosborough of Portland cools off with dog “Hades” at a cooling station put on by Cultivate Initiatives at Sunrise Center in Portland, June 28, 2021. Currently the center plans to remain open until Wednesday at 9 AM.
Scott Steben rests with their cat “Rockit” at a cooling center operated by Cultivate Initiatives at Sunrise Center in Portland, June 28, 2021. Steben’s apartment does not have air conditioning and struggled last night with the heat. Currently the center plans to remain open until Wednesday at 9 AM.
Kristyna Wentz-Graff /
Scott Steben rests with their cat “Rockit” at a cooling center operated by Cultivate Initiatives at Sunrise Center in Portland, June 28, 2021. Steben’s apartment does not have air conditioning and struggled last night with the heat. Currently the center plans to remain open until Wednesday at 9 AM.
Rob Medeiros of Portland cools off by jumping through a sprinkler set up at a cooling station put on by Cultivate Initiatives at Sunrise Center in Portland, June 28, 2021. The pet-friendly center has food, showers, basic health screening, and a safe place for people to wait out the heat. Currently the center plans to remain open until Wednesday at 9 AM.
Kristyna Wentz-Graff /
Rob Medeiros of Portland cools off by jumping through a sprinkler set up at a cooling station put on by Cultivate Initiatives at Sunrise Center in Portland, June 28, 2021. The pet-friendly center has food, showers, basic health screening, and a safe place for people to wait out the heat. Currently the center plans to remain open until Wednesday at 9 AM.
Hundreds have sought shelter at a cooling center at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland, June 28, 2021. The cooling center provided water, snacks, meals, blankets, and cots or mats for sleeping.
Kristyna Wentz-Graff /
Hundreds have sought shelter at a cooling center at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland, June 28, 2021. The cooling center provided water, snacks, meals, blankets, and cots or mats for sleeping.
Calamity Payne, left, is a little emotional after arriving at the cooling center at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland, June 28, 2021. Payne and Daniel Gestri met at a Portland library today, where they had sought respite from the heat along with their rabbits, but had to move on to the convention center where pets were allowed.
Kristyna Wentz-Graff /
Calamity Payne, left, is a little emotional after arriving at the cooling center at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland, June 28, 2021. Payne and Daniel Gestri met at a Portland library today, where they had sought respite from the heat along with their rabbits, but had to move on to the convention center where pets were allowed.
Children play in the fountain at the Portland Water front as the temperature rises to more than 100 degrees fahrenheit
Hanin Najjar /
Children play in the fountain at the Portland Water front as the temperature rises to more than 100 degrees fahrenheit
Dozens of people sat and played in the Ira Keller Fountain Park in Portland, June 28, 2021.
Kristyna Wentz-Graff /
Dozens of people sat and played in the Ira Keller Fountain Park in Portland, June 28, 2021.
A thermometer reads 113 degrees in Rhododendron, Ore., June 28, 2021.
Kami Horton /
A thermometer reads 113 degrees in Rhododendron, Ore., June 28, 2021.
Construction workers near the 1000 block of NW Lovejoy Street, June 28, 2021.
Kristyna Wentz-Graff /
Construction workers near the 1000 block of NW Lovejoy Street, June 28, 2021.
Only a handful of people were on dock south of the Hawthorne Bridge in Portland, finding a little respite from the heat by hanging out near the Willamette River, June 28, 2021.
Kristyna Wentz-Graff /
Only a handful of people were on dock south of the Hawthorne Bridge in Portland, finding a little respite from the heat by hanging out near the Willamette River, June 28, 2021.
Carl W. (no last name given) of Portland stayed overnight at a cooling center at the Oregon Convention Center  in Portland, June 28, 2021, after his air conditioning went out in his home. The cooling center provided water, snacks, meals, blankets, and cots or mats for sleeping.
Kristyna Wentz-Graff /
Carl W. (no last name given) of Portland stayed overnight at a cooling center at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland, June 28, 2021, after his air conditioning went out in his home. The cooling center provided water, snacks, meals, blankets, and cots or mats for sleeping.
People float the Deschutes River through Bend, Ore., in the shadow of Mount Bachelor Friday, June 25, 2021. Weekend temperatures were forecast to reach nearly 110 degrees.
Bradley W. Parks /
People float the Deschutes River through Bend, Ore., in the shadow of Mount Bachelor Friday, June 25, 2021. Weekend temperatures were forecast to reach nearly 110 degrees.
Dust rises from the dry bed of Summer Lake, north of Paisley, Ore., June 28, 2021.
Bradley W. Parks /
Dust rises from the dry bed of Summer Lake, north of Paisley, Ore., June 28, 2021.
“Rico” tries to stay cool in Beavercreek Ore., June 28, 2021. Many pet owners have struggled to keep their animals from overheating during the heat wave.
Anne Ibach /
“Rico” tries to stay cool in Beavercreek Ore., June 28, 2021. Many pet owners have struggled to keep their animals from overheating during the heat wave.

Copyright 2021 Oregon Public Broadcasting