Hundreds of British Columbians died after a stifling heat wave gripped the province in record-breaking temperatures and new data shows that twice as many residents in Fraser Health died compared to the provincial average.
Newly-released statistics from the BC Coroners Service shows that while there were nearly 300 per cent more people who died in the province compared to the five-year average from June 25 to July 1 – in Fraser Health that number skyrocketed to nearly 600 per cent.
When averaged out, 198 people typically died during the last week of June in British Columbia, but during the punishing heat dome, that number rose to 777, representing 579 excess deaths in the province. In Fraser Health, the average is 50 people who die during that week, but this year there were 344; a 582 per cent increase.
In Vancouver Coastal Health, which has a smaller population (1.25 million) than Fraser Health (1.8 million), an average of 45 people die in the last week of June, but this year 193 did; a 329 per cent increase. This year Interior Health, Northern Health and the Vancouver Island Health authorities saw increases of 123 to 138 per cent of their five-year averages during that time.
CTV News has reached out to Fraser Health and the city of Surrey, the health authority’s largest city, to discuss the statics and planning efforts for future extreme heat events but has not yet been granted an interview.
VANCOUVER ALREADY CONDUCTING A REVIEW AMID RECOMMENDATIONS
While Vancouver saw comparatively fewer deaths than its suburbs and Fraser Valley, the city is already conducting a review of its existing heat response measures as the city’s planning commissioners have sent a memo to the city council and the managers of the city, park board and various civic departments in an effort to mitigate future deaths due to extreme temperatures.
The nine-page document dated July 5 has a series of short-term and longer-term suggestions that “should prioritize historically under-served areas and populations that have been harmed by systemic oppression and inequitable policies and wealth inequality.”
Among the priorities the Vancouver City Planning Commission advocates for in “Climate Emergency: Extreme Heat and Air Quality Mitigation” are emergency alerts to phones in a variety of languages and more widespread communication of the risks and emergency response measures on various media channels and even signage at bus stops and grocery stores.
The commission’s short-term suggestions include opening beaches, pools and public washrooms 24 hours per day during heat waves, using buses as cooling stations, planting trees to offer shade and providing more covered and shaded outdoor seating, more temporary washrooms, charging stations and Wi-Fi access near shade or cooling stations, air conditioning in lobbies of social housing and congregate care settings, temporary hotel rooms for the homeless (particularly seniors or living with a disability), transportation to cooling centres, as well as air purifiers with priority for the disabled and elderly.
Suggestions for multi-height water fountains, cooling and misting stations were already incorporated into the city of Vancouver’s response to the heat wave, and the city is continuing to direct people to air conditioned libraries and community centres even though the temperatures have largely returned to normal.
Long-term recommendations include ensuring accessible seating and access to shady areas in parks, widening sidewalks, investing in pop-up cooling and clean-air tents, more water fountains and water parks, more accessible public washrooms, and air conditioning for social and congregate housing units.
A city of Vancouver spokesperson says the document will be considered as part of a review its initiated into the heat event.
“The first phase of this review will take place within the next two weeks, based on preliminary data available now,” they said in an email. “We will also be analysing more detailed data from BC Coroners as this is made available over the coming months, to more meaningfully assess who is most impacted and what supports are needed for future extreme heat events.”