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Where Heat-related Illness Has Hit Hardest in the U.S.

High temperatures are baking much of America, posing a risk to people’s health.

An unrelenting heat wave – one that’s followed the hottest start to June on record globally – is putting many Americans at risk of heat-related illness.

On Tuesday, more than 52 million people – about 15% of the U.S. population – lived in a county that could experience maximum temperatures of 100 F or higher. That marks the peak count so far this year, according to a U.S. News analysis of modeled daily temperature data from the federal government alongside population data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention keeps track of how hot days impact the health of people in the U.S., reporting that about 67,500 people visit an emergency department due to heat each year on average. Not surprisingly, the rates of those visits tend to grow alongside rising summer temperatures.

But historical data provided in the CDC’s tracker also points to where the burden of heat-related illness has been highest in recent weeks: Health and Human Services Region 6 – which includes the states of ArkansasLouisianaNew MexicoOklahoma, and Texas – reached a rate of just over 1,000 heat-related emergency department visits per 100,000 ED visits overall at the end of June.

That marks a peak amid five consecutive weeks with rates of over 500 visits per 100,000, and the highest rate for the region in figures dating back to 2018.

The CDC provides recommendations for employers to help reduce the hazards of heat stress in the workplace, such as allowing different durations for breaks depending on the temperature and physical demands of the job, and helping employees stay hydrated.

Notably, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed legislation in June that eliminates local ordinances mandating water breaks every four hours for construction workers. The law, set to take effect later this year, reads that its purpose is to provide “consistency” over such matters by “returning sovereign regulatory powers to the state,” with supporters arguing that safe conditions are already guaranteed by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. The Texas Tribune reports labor unions and workers’ rights advocates opposed the legislation.

Meanwhile, USAFacts, a nonpartisan organization that provides insights on government data, maintains a data set providing a history of how temperatures have evolved nationwide over time. In July 2022, the vast majority of Americans experienced temperatures above the “20th century normal,” while approximately 104 million people saw temperatures two standard deviations warmer than that historical norm.

On average, more than 9,000 people wind up hospitalized and 702 die each year in connection with heat. The CDC warns that “climate projections indicate that extreme heat events will be more frequent and intense in coming decades.”

Source: US News