Keeping residents cool during heat wave comes with new challenges

Wearing a mask outside is more uncomfortable than it has been since the start of the pandemic as Jersey sweats through a heat wave.

“A heat wave is constituted as three consecutive days with high temperatures of 90 degrees or above. But what we’ve seen time again in recent years is the persistence of the warm,” said Rutgers University state climatologist Dave Robinson.

Robinson says July is expected to be the hottest month this summer. According to the National Weather Service, heat indexes are forecasted to reach 110 degrees in certain counties and complicating efforts to protect people at risk while trying to stay cool.

Paul Harris is the pool coordinator for the city of Trenton. He knows people will come to cool off, and says staff at all five of the city’s pools are making sure that everyone follows the new COVID-19 restrictions.

“When these regulations came out, those of us who run the pools, that was a concern. In the water you’re not allowed to wear a mask for drowning purposes because you can drown. But the problem you have, and those who run pools will tell you, when you’re getting in and out of the pool, having to put their mask back on just to go to the bathroom. Our staff is doing as much as we can. If they get out for a long period of time they have to have a mask on. If they get out to go to the bathroom, we’re telling them to go back and get your mask. There’s always going to be push back, but we have security in place at all of our pools. We have monitors in place that sign people in,” Harris said.

In addition to social distancing and practicing proper hygiene, the pool has staggered times where there is a 60 person capacity during each swim session.

“Basically we told our people think of it like you’re going to the beach. When you’re on the road to the beach you can’t really turn around and you rarely turn around. Come dressed to swim, bring your own lawn chair, bring your own beach towel and basically it limits their interaction with the surfaces,” Harris said.

For those who may not feel comfortable or cool at the pool, the city also has two cooling centers where social distancing is in place.

“There’s water, and then there’s a small little meal, they can bring a book to read, or bring their own activities and it just gives them an opportunity to stay cool and out of the heat. But those who need transportation, we gave then our number for each center. They can call and then we would be able to transported them here,” Harris said.

The dangerous summer heat won’t just make you sweat, it could also make you sick. Bruce Ruck, managing director of the New Jersey Poison Control Center at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, warns that high humidity and heat can kill when the body is unable to regulate a high internal temperature.

“The excess heat, what we worry about obviously, is people becoming overheated to the point where they become very sick and have dizziness, confusion, hallucinations and potentially even seizures,” he said.

Ruck says to prevent heat-related illness make sure to stay hydrated, stay cool — whether that’s a pool or in an air-conditioned room — and on hot days to make sure you remain out of direct sun and in the shade.