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CDC director visits Phoenix to learn about heat relief efforts

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is looking to Arizona for lessons on how to mitigate the health impacts of extreme heat. CDC director, Dr. Mandy Cohen visited Phoenix on Wednesday.

Cohen said Maricopa County’s seasonal Heat Relief Network, which includes cooling centers and water distribution sites run by local governments as well as nonprofits and faith-based organizations, is a good example for the rest of the country of a collaborative approach to a public health issue.

“It can’t be done from public health alone, or just from emergency operations alone," Cohen said. "It really takes a village to do that. I love that they’re involving the faith community, the libraries. So everyone together is definitely a best practice for the country." 

Cohen took a tour of a heat relief site in a side-room at Burton Barr Library. The former cafe space is now being used as  Phoenix’s first-ever 24/7 cooling center. The city launched the all-hours site in response to record overnight temperatures and  record heat-related deaths last year. City officials found a third of heat-related 911 calls last summer happened during hours when no cooling centers were open. 

In addition to the new 24-hour Burton Barr Library site, the city is offering overnight respite hours at its Senior Opportunities West Center in south Phoenix, and it is keeping its Cholla, Harmon and Yucca library branches open until 10 p.m. this summer. Maricopa County is also providing funding for additional cooling centers across the Phoenix metro area to keep their doors open later into the evenings this year. 

All of these programs are resource-intensive. The Burton Barr site alone will cost nearly $600,000 for round-the-clock staffing through September. Cohen noted that's a challenge.

“I’m certainly going to take those messages back to Congress and talk about what I’ve learned here in Arizona and how that can inform how we think about resourcing this work going forward in the future,” Cohen said.  

Cohen said last summer brought extreme temperatures not just to Arizona, but to communities nationwide. She said cities and states across the U.S. need to be better prepared to cope with the threats of heat. 

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Katherine Davis-Young is a senior field correspondent reporting on a variety of issues, including public health and climate change.