As heat-related deaths rise in Pima County, Medical Examiner has cooling trucks ready

(Arizona's Family)
Published: Jul. 29, 2023 at 5:21 PM MST|Updated: Jul. 29, 2023 at 5:22 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (13 News) - This record-breaking heat is not only uncomfortable, it’s downright dangerous and deadly.

In Pima County, the Office of the Medical Examiner is tracking:

  • 45 heat-related deaths this year with 31 of those in July alone
  • There have been 26 heat-caused deaths with 20 in July
  • And 19 heat-contributed deaths, 11 of which happened in July

Even though the county saw most of those deaths in July, the numbers are tracking relatively normal.

Greg Hess, Pima County’s Medical Examiner, said the reason is our mild June temperatures. But as we know, the record-breaking temperatures aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.

“Things are getting hotter and there’s sort of an increased demand for better information,” said Hess.

The Office of the Medical Examiner is tracking heat deaths in a new way. Historically, they’ve recorded heat-caused deaths and heat-contributed deaths.

“Heat-caused deaths are a death due directly to hyperthermia,” Hess said.

As for heat-contributed deaths, Hess said “the cause of death might typically be an overdose, but why do we get so many more people deceased outside from overdoses in July than we do in December? So clearly heat contributes.”

Now for the first time, they’re tracking heat-related deaths.

“Heat-related is heat caused plus heat contributed, and that’s new in 2023 for us,” said Hess.

It’s a way to better understand heat’s deadliness, and since the vast majority of deaths have been in July, the county is preparing for an uptick as it only gets hotter.

“People are talking about Phoenix and bringing in temporary cooling because they’re over capacity. We have sort of similar issues just not to the same extreme,” Hess said. “Our census today is 166 remains at the medical examiner’s office in cold storage. That’s more than we typically have. That’s about two-thirds of our total capacity. We do have one of our cold trucks here on site and it is turned on so we can use it if we need it.”

Click here to see the office’s data dashboard.

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