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Portland residents stay cool in a public fountain filled with soap suds during a heatwave. Photo: Nathan Howard/Getty Images

The extreme heatwaves that blasted the Pacific Northwest this summer exposed a new reality for hospitals that were overwhelmed by patients with heat-related illnesses.

Why it matters: State and local health departments in Washington and Oregon report those who succumbed to heat-related illness were often older, with pre-ex­ist­ing con­di­tions and had no air con­di­tion­ing. Many were also so­cially iso­lated.

  • Officials say they expect this summer's heat is only a preview of what to expect in the future.

The big picture: Nearly 200 million Americans were under some level of heat advisory last week, with many more experiencing compounding effects from the wildfires in California or poor air quality carried by wildfire smoke.

What’s happening: Heat-related hospitalizations typically peak in Oregon at 81°F, according to a 2019 study. The state reached 116°F in late June, which contributed to a staggering 1,038 visits to the ER in Washington and Oregon that occurred on June 28 alone, the CDC later analyzed.

  • "When you aren't used to extreme heat, you may not actually realize how dangerous it is," said Renee Salas, emergency medicine physician at Massachusetts General Hospital on Tuesday during an event hosted by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
  • Lo­cal gov­ern­ments like Portland's Multnomah County have tried to make its 211 hotline available and cool­ing cen­ters open.

Zoom out: Fire season and heatwaves also strain hospital infrastructure unaccustomed to function in extreme weather, Salas said.

  • Hospitals have to often run on generators when electric utilities may shut off power to either avoid sparking fires or creating systemwide blackouts.

The bottom line: Local hospitals could see yet another wave of patients as the Pacific Northwest enters a second summer heatwave.

  • Long term, they say, major infrastructure overhauls and better electronic medical reporting will need to monitor heatwaves and better respond.

Go deeper

The next 30 years of extreme weather

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

This year's extreme weather is a preview of even more turbulent times that will bedevil us for at least the span of a 30-year mortgage.

Why it matters: Extreme weather events are the clearest way we're feeling climate change in our daily lives, and they will reshape where and how we live, work and play.

How to adapt to extreme weather

Photo illustration: Aïda Amer. Photo: Charles Mostoller/Bloomberg via Getty Images

With climate shock waves set to roil communities with increasing frequency and severity, an urgent task facing us all is to build up resilience measures to withstand these events.

Why it matters: It's too late to stop extreme weather from increasing even as emissions are reduced, so all we can do is adapt to it. But there are strategies that you — and your community — can take to become better prepared.

Dan Primack, author of Pro Rata
4 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Democrats' billionaires tax explained

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

There is now legislative language behind the push to tax American billionaires on unrealized capital gains, as Sen. Ron Wyden last night released his 107-page plan.

Why it matters: This would be a sea change in U.S. tax policy, which has only applied to realized gains (otherwise known as income).