A Long, Hot COVID-19 Summer
As we enter into the dog days of summer and the temperature gets hotter and hotter, it's going to become increasingly difficult to keep people inside — its just the reality of a long, hot summer. However, given the unusual circumstances brought on by the global pandemic, we've been advised to socially distance and stay indoors as much as possible.
Many don't realize the gravity of this problem, seeing as they can work comfortably from their air conditioned homes, equipped with high-speed internet and a stocked refrigerator. Per a recent CityLab study, published by Bloomberg, nearly 90% of American households have some type of air-conditioning.
However, 10% of this country, a cluster often identifiable by a lower class (and often people of color) spend the hot summer months, trying to escape the heat. This inequality stretches beyond the household level, impacting those who commute to work outdoors or take public transport —requiring them to spend an inadvisable amount of time in the sun, which can lead to heat strokes and sever dehydration. The usual remedies — public beaches, community pools, public parks with sprinklers, ice cream trucks, movie theaters, malls and air conditioned buses and trains — are thus packed around this time of year.
Public policy makers have been working for years on these issues, actively fighting alongside urban planners and designers to create more safe, shaded common spaces within cities as well as alter construction materials so as to avoid "Heat Island Effect," a term which describes built up areas that are hotter than nearby rural areas, often due to the use of concrete. According to the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), heat islands can affect communities by "increasing summertime peak energy demand, air conditioning costs, air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, heat-related illness and mortality, and water pollution."
This brings us to today. A scorching hot summer day, with temperatures in the mid 90's up until 8 pm. Many people would normally head to one of the aforementioned venues post-work, school or summer camp with their families to beat the heat. However, we're living in the time of COVID-19 and sitting in air-conditioned shared spaces, sharing pool facilities, or taking a packed bus home is not exactly practicing social distancing. Even with a mask one, the chances of being exposed to infections air droplets or surface level germs increases, every time you leave the safety of your own home.
The Southern and Western states, such as Florida, California and Arizona, have seen a spike in their cases, due to this particular dilemma. Everyone wants to be outside and few people want to wear masks — a problem that is only continuing to get worse as the temperature rises. So what's the solution? How can we require people to stay home if the heat is hazardous? What about those without homes? If we let people outside, how to we assure they take the necessary precautions? There aren't any clear answers to any of these questions, as is common with COVID-19 related queries. However, policy officials are working behind the scenes to mitigate risk in the future by taking the possibility of a future pandemic into consideration during the design and policy making process.
For now, the onus falls at the individual level and will differ depending on socio-economic and geopolitical circumstances. It will come down to what you are able to do, not what you want to do. Stay inside, if you are able. Social distance, if you are able. Wear a mask, if you are able. Track your symptoms, if you are able. Protect your communities, if you are able: and the COVID-19 mantra goes on and on.