Policy Health Issue
Climate change has brought about a gradual increase in temperatures during summer both in the US and abroad. The last several summers in the US have featured abnormally high temperatures, droughts, and other similar conditions that affect the US population (Daanen et al., 2021). Heat is particularly dangerous for the elderly, children, individuals with heart diseases and hypertension, as well as people who have to work outside during summer time (McDermott-Levy & Moore, 2021).
To help deal with heat, the US implements Cooling Centers that have become popular among the targeted groups, particularly in the southern states, such as Texas, Florida, and California (Daanen et al., 2021). COVID-19 brings additional challenges to the continued implementation of these rooms, potentially endangering vulnerable populations to being infected with the disease. According to CDC, there is a danger of catching COVID in cooling centers due to the fact that they are enclosed public spaces (Martinez et al., 2020). The purpose of this paper is to evaluate the potential for improving the situation in Cooling Centers without compromising COVID-19 safety.
Cooling centers provide a necessary service to vulnerable populations during the heatwave. At the same time, they may represent danger to visitors due to COVID-19 infection. Thus, the problem to be addressed can be formulated as follows: How to make cooling centers safe to individuals utilizing them and minimizes the chances of COVID-19 exposure?
Suggestions for Addressing the Issue
There are several potential solutions to improve the safety of cooling centers for the population. The first and most obvious solution is to reduce the number of centers available to the public (Daanen et al., 2021). Due to COVID-19 restrictions on spending time outdoors and in public locations, most people stay at home for prolonged periods of time. As such, the necessity to support cooling houses is diminished. It is possible to close down some or even all of them for the duration of the crisis, to prevent infections (Daanen et al., 2021).
The downsides of this solution lie in the fact that cooling houses are still needed by essential workers as well as old people during their essential traveling to and from supermarkets, hospitals, and other facilities (Daanen et al., 2021). If only some cooling houses are closed, then there is a danger of increasing the numbers per center, thus making it more likely for people to become sick (Carvalhaes et al., 2020). This solution will help save money, as fewer cooling centers means less expenses on supporting them.
The second solution is limiting the number of people allowed to visit cooling houses to individuals that have been vaccinated against COVID-19. Evidence shows that those vaccinated are much less likely to catch or spread the virus (Martinez et al., 2020). Even if they do get sick, their symptoms are much lighter compared to those that did not vaccinate (Martinez et al., 2020). This solution will allow to keep the number of cooling houses stable across all states and ensure that those using them are kept out of harm. However, the solution is not perfect, as it would bar many unvaccinated individuals from entering. Additional expenses would occur, as there would be a need for specialized personnel to control who goes in or out.
The final solution is to increase the number of cooling houses in compliance with distancing laws. These places can be equipped with advanced systems for air filtration and would need to be maintained and cleaned on a daily basis to prevent the virus from accumulating on the surfaces (Salas et al., 2020). This solution is the most expensive so far, for several reasons. First, the construction of duplicate centers would cost time, money, and equipment (Salas et al., 2020). Second, these centers will serve no purpose past the COVID-19 epidemic. Third, the potential for reducing COVID-19 through these measures is uncertain (Salas et al., 2020).
The stakeholders in decision-making would be public officials on the local and state levels. Different localities may choose to maintain or close down cooling centers depending on how significant is the impact in their particular situation. The public would be the primary beneficiaries of this action, with the hospitals being the secondary beneficiaries if the program works out. Budgeting and funding considerations will depend on how much a specific state or locality can afford.
Impact on the Health Delivery Systems
The proposed solutions are all aimed at a single goal – reducing the number of individuals sick with COVID-19, while preventing the negative health effects from the heatwave from occurring in the vulnerable populations. If successful, the hospital system would see fewer COVID-19 or heat wave-related cases, which would free up both resources and personnel to dedicate to the available patients. The costs of treating COVID patients are extensive, meaning that the reduction of cases in the long-term perspective would help save public money on local, state, and federal levels. Therefore, the perceived impact on the health delivery systems would be positive.
In the short-term perspective, however, the resources diverted to take care of the cooling centers would likely create a shortage elsewhere. Nevertheless, the solutions are necessary to be implemented, as cooling centers are public spaces and provide a much-needed service during hot days. Considering some of the solutions outlined by this policy brief should be one of the priorities at the state and local levels.
Carvalhaes, T., Markolf, S., Helmrich, A., Kim, Y., Li, R., Natarajan, M., Bondank, E., Ahmad, N., & Chester, M. (2020). COVID-19 as a harbinger of transforming infrastructure resilience. Frontiers in Built Environment, 6, 148. Web.
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Martinez, G. S., Linares, C., De’Donato, F., & Diaz, J. (2020). Protect the vulnerable from extreme heat during the COVID-19 pandemic. Environmental Research, 187, 109684. Web.
McDermott-Levy, R., & Moore, C. H. (2021). Discharge planning in the era of climate change. Journal of Radiology Nursing, 40(2), 131-135. Web.
Salas, R. N., Shultz, J. M., & Solomon, C. G. (2020). The climate crisis and COVID-19—a major threat to the pandemic response. New England Journal of Medicine, 383(11), e70. Web.