Heat claimed victims throughout Multnomah County
People in every part of Multnomah County died from suspected or confirmed cases of heat exposure when temperatures topped 110 degrees in late June.
The Multnomah County Medical Examiner has identified 95 people with suspected death from hyperthermia that occurred during the record-shattering heat wave that fell over the region beginning June 25. According to the county, 30 of the deaths have been formally ruled hyperthermia, or death by excessive heat, as of Saturday, July 3.
According to the county, the first hyperthermia deaths were reported on June 27, with almost 95 percent being reported on and after June 28, the peak of the heat wave.
For comparison, for all of Oregon between 2017 and 2019, there were only 12 deaths from hyperthermia.
"This tragic event is almost certainly a glimpse into the future for Multnomah County, for Oregon, the nation and the world," said Public Health Director Jessica Guernsey. "The impacts of climate change with heat waves, severe winter weather, wildfires, floods and other rippling effects are happening now and will happen with more frequency for the foreseeable future."
The deaths occurred in more than 20 of Multnomah County's ZIP codes. According to the county, almost all ZIP codes affected had at least one death, and no ZIP code had more than five.
The highest number of deaths were reported in East Multnomah County. The most were in the 97266 ZIP code, whose post office is located at 3850 S.E. 82nd Ave. Others were 97233, whose post office is located at 1830 S.E. 122nd Ave., and 97206, whose post office is located at 5010 S.E. Foster Road.
The people who died ranged in age from 44 to 97, with an average age of 68, the county said. They include 20 women and 39 men, numbers that may not reflect an individual's gender identity. Records regarding gender are not complete.
Death investigators found that 52 of those who died were white, with small numbers among other races and ethnicities, the county said. This information is preliminary and will be refined as death investigators complete their work.
Many of the victims had underlying health conditions and many of those who died were found alone, without air conditioning or a fan. The majority of people died in their homes. The county is not yet able to release the exact number of homeless people because establishing homelessness takes intensive death investigation and follow-up.
"The county's death investigators are working to understand where a decedent is from, where they died, with notes specific to the circumstances of each death. This part of the work takes time to do right and is top priority for informing our prevention efforts for the rest of the summer and into the future," said Multnomah County Health Officer Dr. Jennifer Vines.
"Over the coming days and weeks we will continue to gather and analyze local death data to better understand the specific risks of heat-related death. While we continue to build out a robust public health system and response with 24-hour cooling centers, direct outreach and teams in the field, we are humbled by this death toll and committed to learning everything we can about how to prepare for future events," said Guernsey.
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