Chinatown seniors please “STAY COOL”

by Rev. Norman Fong

August 13, 2019

norman fong

I heard recently that some of our seniors got so hot in a Chinatown apartment at night that they came up with the idea to sleep in their bathroom because the tiled floors were cooler and more insulated than the other rooms. That’s just an example of how smart and innovative our seniors are. But that’s not ideal and we want to keep everyone safe and healthy but also comfortable. That’s why I interviewed Michael Liao of NICOS about the dangers of heat illness and how to stay cool.

1) Michael - Why do we need Cooling Centers here?
In June of this year, San Francisco experienced a heat wave event where temperatures reached high 90's to low 100's in parts of San Francisco over a period of 3-4 days. Although San Francisco is usually quite temperate due to coastal cold current and fog, global climate change means that we anticipate having more and more really hot days like the ones in June, in our future. Because of our usually cool climate, San Francisco is especially ill-prepared for heat waves - most of our buildings and housing lack air conditioning, and we don't really have good ways to help residents cool down during extreme heat.

nicos chinese health coalition staff

2) I heard that the Heat is very dangerous for Seniors and little kids… How many people die from Heat?
Extreme heat is more deadly for vulnerable people - including the very young children and older adults. For the very young, often not being able to communicate that they are thirsty can lead to severe dehydration. As we get older, we also lose our ability to effectively sweat and regulate internal body heat, and older adults might more likely be isolated. Thankfully we didn't hear reports of any heat-related deaths in June, 2019. However, two years ago in 2017 when San Francisco was hit with a heat wave where temperatures soared to 106 degrees, we had at least 3 deaths in the city of San Francisco that was attributed to the extreme heat, all of them were elderly. Knowing the signs of heat exhaustion and heat stroke can be the difference between life and death. The following are symptoms of heat exhaustion: paleness; tiredness; weakness; dizziness; headaches; fainting; muscle cramps; and heavy sweating. Persons showing symptoms for heat exhaustion should take action to cool down such as taking a cool bath or going to a cooling center. Heat stroke on the other hand is a medical emergency. Anyone exhibiting symptoms of heat stroke should be treated by medical professionals immediately. The symptoms of heat stroke can include: extremely high body temperature 103°+; difficulty breathing; red, hot, dry skin (with no sweating); rapid, strong pulse; throbbing headache, dizziness; nausea; mental confusion; delirium; hallucinations; chills; and unconsciousness.

water sf chinatown seniors

sfpl heat relief cooling center

3) For Chinatown, since we have so many seniors – what can we do about? (NICOS is planning to…)
Chinatown is a particularly vulnerable community to extreme heat, because we have many people living in sometimes overcrowded conditions and with no adequate way to cool down. Residents should know that the Chinatown branch library on Powell street is always air-conditioned, and serves as a cooling center for the community whenever there is extreme heat. In addition, the City College of San Francisco, Chinatown Campus, has also recently opened its lobby for the community as a Heat Relief site. The facility provides shaded space and benches for the community, but no air conditioning. People who live with or know of people who might be vulnerable should educate them on the signs of heat-related illness and tell them of the local resources available to help.

4) What are some good tips for our seniors?
If possible, during extreme heat:
- pull shades down in your home in the day
- in the night keep windows open
- stay hydrated by drinking water frequently, even if you don't feel thirsty
- avoid sugary drinks, alcohol and caffeine that can dehydrate you
- if you decide to go outdoors, stay in shaded area and wear light-colored, lightweight clothing and a hat
- use a thermometer to monitor temperature in your room or house
- consider visiting a cooling center when the temperature indoors is 85 degrees or hotter.

If you or someone you know are in one of the at-risk groups for heat-related illness - such as seniors, people who live alone and are isolated, people with disabilities, and people with a chronic illness such as diabetes, respiratory conditions, obesity, you should make sure that they have a disaster/ emergency kit at home, and it should include supplies that can respond to extreme heat such as hand fans, cold compress or towels (to soak with water), and lots of drinking water.

seniors health relief tips

Now that we know what to do in extreme hot weathers (such as drinking plenty of water, going to cooling centers, monitoring room temperatures, paying attention to heatstroke symptoms), we are going to have a very “cool” time riding the next heat waves.

In 2018, the PG&E Corporation Foundation, awarded a $100,000 grant to Sustainable Chinatown and our neighborhood resiliency strategy to address extreme heat and other health impacts caused by climate change. Thank you PG&E Corporation Foundation for making a commitment to improving the lives of the low-income monolingual Chinese immigrant community.


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