1995 Chicago heat wave taught lessons used in COVID-19 response, including checking on elderly

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Twenty-five years since a deadly heat wave swept Chicago and left more than 700 people dead, the lessons learned and changes made are being used to help residents during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last week's hot weather did not lead to an increase in heat-related deaths, according to the Cook County Medical Examiner, but 25 years ago they were setting up refrigerated trucks to serve as temporary morgues during the heat wave.

The current medical examiner said as a result of the lessons learned during the heat wave, the office acquired a refrigerated warehouse during the COVID-19 pandemic. City officials also applied lessons about who is most impacted by these kinds of crises that were learned during that deadly heat wave.

"You can clearly see the communities of color, those who didn't have that many resources, are being affected more, just like what was happening during the heat wave, and this data is available anytime," said Cook County Medical Examiner Dr. Ponni Arunkumar.

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In 1995, many of the dead were isolated senior citizens. City officials urged residents to look after their elderly neighbors, but making those connections was too late for some.

"To take that extra step to get to know somebody and do something that they need, it will make you feel better and it might save a life," said Simone Mitchell-Peterson, CEO of Little Brothers Friends of the Elderly.

Mitchell-Peterson said during the pandemic, they shifted from gatherings for the lonely elders to phone calls; lots of phone calls, as many as 800 phone visits a week.

"We are not waiting to make sure our elders have water, we're not waiting to see if they have air conditioning, we have to go out and buy units last week and make sure that they are installed," she said.

Since 1995 City officials pay more attention the hot weather and connections with seniors.

Little Brothers has been making connections for 60 years in Chicago, preventing tragedies with the help of many dedicated volunteers, and they are always looking for more to help.
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