They Say 200 Died From PNW Heat Wave. It May Be Much More

'Excess death' numbers out of Oregon, Washington state suggest hundreds more died than officially noted
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 12, 2021 4:05 PM CDT
True Toll of PNW Heat Wave May Have Been Much Higher
Paramedics respond to a heat exposure call during a heat wave on June 26, 2021, in Salem, Ore.   (AP Photo/Nathan Howard)

While much of the US was slammed with a wall of heat Wednesday, the Pacific Northwest in particular is bracing for more super-hot days, just weeks after enduring a deadly "heat dome" that shattered records. That weather event produced an official death toll of 95 in Washington state and 96 in Oregon, but a new analysis by the New York Times finds hundreds more possibly died due to the heat. Per the paper's examination, which looked at mortality data reported to the CDC from Washington and Oregon during the week of the heat wave, there were about 600 "excess deaths" between the two states—meaning the number of deaths exceeding what would typically be found. Of those additional deaths, the CDC found only about 60 were tied to COVID. Plus, those figures are only the initial ones: CDC officials say the death toll could rise even more.

"Consider it a floor," a health statistician with the agency says. It becomes tricky to figure out exactly who died as a result of the heat, note the Times and NPR. Heat can exacerbate already existing cardiac and respiratory conditions, for example, but unless it's clear someone died of heatstroke—typically assessed at the time of death or immediately after—the cause of death on the death certificate may not be tied to the heat itself. Knowing how heat plays a role in such fatalities is key, as public health officials could take steps to fend off preventable deaths. As for the Pacific Northwest's current overheated situation, it's expected to last through Friday and possibly into the weekend, with temperatures set to rise 10 to 20 degrees above average, hitting the 90s and 100s for cities such as Seattle and Spokane in Washington, as well as Portland in Oregon, reports NBC News. (More heat wave stories.)

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