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What summer heat waves could mean for crowded big cities enforcing social distancing

Public officials are concerned about how to protect residents from coronavirus and summer heat.

The coronavirus pandemic's impact on heavily populated areas has become a concern for public officials as the warmer summer months approach.

The question for city officials is how will they protect residents from the combination of social distancing because of COVID-19 and the "potentially deadly consequences of being poor, disabled or elderly during the hottest days of the year," the Washington Post reported.

There have already been more than 1 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the United States with more than 50,000 deaths related to it.

Many residents often either don't have air conditioning or limit using it to control electricity bills in many low-income city neighborhoods in the Northeast and Midwest, according to the Washington Post. As a result, people often gather outdoors, at public pools or at recreation centers, which also serve as cooling centers for senior citizens. But social distancing policies threaten the viability of those plans this year.

"This is a challenge ... because if the order is to stay at home, then the traditional way of responding ... is probably not feasible," Jeffrey Wade, executive director of the Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority in Cleveland, which serves about 55,000 residents, told the Washington Post.

In the summer, dehydration, heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heatstroke are among the heat-related illnesses that resulted in 8,081 heat-related deaths in the U.S. from 1999-2010, according to the CDC.

"Heat kills a lot of people, and the elderly and very young are extremely sensitive to extremes of temperature," said Dr. Joel N. Myers, AccuWeather founder and CEO.

"The temperature and other indices do not tell the whole story of how weather conditions make us feel," said Myers. "Other weather variables in addition to temperature, such as sunlight, humidity, wind, precipitation and a multitude of other factors can impact our comfort or discomfort outside and may even cause harm or illness."

In Oakland, California, plans were announced to open 74 miles of city streets to pedestrians and New York City intends to free 40 miles from car traffic to create more outdoor space for residents.

The problem for people and the cities may be the duration of heat waves. AccuWeather's summer forecast is calling for "scorching heat in July and early August for places like Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and New York. The latter part of the summer will yield a good chance for heat waves, where highs can climb to 90 degrees Fahrenheit or greater for three consecutive days."

"Clearly, if a heat wave goes on for 10 days, 12 days or more ... it can be devastating," said AccuWeather's Dr. Joel N. Myers. "Your body has a certain amount of resiliency, but the longer the heat wave goes, the more it creates a stress on your body and the more it takes out of you. That's why the death toll accelerates with the length of a heat wave. It's not only how hot it gets, but how long it lasts."