Extreme heat poses health risks to everyone, health providers say

Residents swim at a swimming pool in Orem. As summer temperatures rise, pool crowds increase. (Photo courtesy of Bryce Merrill)

As Utah plunges into its hottest days of the year, health providers and city employees are helping the public stay cool and safe.

This month, the National Weather Service reported “extremely dangerous heat” hitting the Southwest U.S.

This graph shows extremely high temperatures hitting the southwestern U.S. in July. The National Weather Service recommends taking the heat seriously and avoiding overexposure. (@NWSWPC via Twitter)

Megan Homer, a health provider at the BYU Health Center, warns that extreme heat especially affects children under four, pregnant women, the elderly and those with chronic conditions. However, she said all are at risk for heat-related illnesses.

Ways to ensure sun-safety

Homer recommended several ways to ensure health and safety during these hot summer months.

“The biggest one is staying hydrated. Most people drink far less water than they should,” she said.

Additionally, she encouraged individuals to drink three to four liters of water daily. She said those who consume lots of caffeine should drink one ounce of water for every caffeinated ounce, to make up for loss related to caffeine. 

She also recommended staying inside during the hottest parts of the day, typically from 1-5 p.m. Outdoor exercise and strenuous activity should be avoided during this time and saved for mornings and evenings, she said. 

Homer advised wearing lightweight, loose clothing and sunscreen when outdoors. Sunburns increase fluid loss, leading to dehydration, she said.

Homer noted the importance of replacing electrolytes in the body that are lost through sweat. According to Homer, a serving of Gatorade or a similar recovery beverage helps replace electrolytes and maintain hydration.

Avoiding the heat in Utah County

As temperatures increase, many in Utah County look for activities to stay cool.

Cathy Smits, manager and overseer of operations at the Provo Recreation Center, said more people use the facilities at the Provo Recreation Center in July than any other month. She said their business thrives on high temperatures.

“Heat is actually our friend during the summer … people to come to cool off and enjoy the pools and the weather,” she said.

Smits said the Recreation Center offers many options for community members. Indoor exercise equipment and swimming pools as well as sport courts provide options to be active while staying out of the sun. 

The safety of guests and employees is the main priority of the Recreation Center, Smits said. They keep indoor facilities consistently air-conditioned. 

A lifeguard sits on the edge of a pool in Orem. Lifeguards and other outdoor employees are required to follow safety measures when working in extreme heat. (Photo courtesy of Bryce Merrill)

According to Smits, the lifeguards at the Recreation Center’s outdoor swimming pool regularly apply sunscreen, wear hats, have shaded stations and take breaks, among other safety procedures.

The Recreation Center children’s swimming lesson program involves a safety topic called “Too Much Sun is No Fun,” which teaches heat and sun safety procedures, Smits said. 

Bryce Merrill, Orem City recreation and library director, said as temperatures have risen significantly, the city’s swimming pool, splash pads and aquatic programs have become increasingly busy. 

He said that libraries and fitness centers offer indoor summer programs.

“They are even busier as families look to escape the heat and find something to do inside on a hot summer afternoon,” Merrill said. 

In his 18 years working for Orem City, Merrill said each summer comes with its own unique set of challenges for city employees, especially those who work outside. 

Merrill said the city monitors the local heat index to ensure that workers in those positions have ample breaks and safety equipment for extremely hot days. 

According to Merrill, residents still prioritize and support outdoor recreation by visiting public parks and local hiking trails, using the nearby canyon’s higher elevation as a way to escape the heat. There are a variety of activities to be enjoyed, he said. 

“Utah summers are magical. With a little bit of planning … and flexibility, we’re still able to make sure that people get outside and enjoy the natural beauty of Utah,” he said. 

Merrill encouraged residents to follow local social media platforms to be alerted to different summer programs and activity options. 

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