Supes to consider heat emergency plan for cooling centers amid pandemic

FILE PHOTO The Stevenson Ranch Library is now allowing residents to pick up holds curbside. June 08, 2020. Bobby Block / The Signal
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Every summer, when heat waves strike across Southern California, Los Angeles County establishes many locations as cooling centers for residents, but amid the pandemic and safety guidelines in place, not everyone has access to these areas. 

The county Board of Supervisors is set Tuesday to consider a motion brought forth by Supervisor Hilda Solis that suggests creating a “heat emergency response plan” that considers the current health crisis and the most vulnerable populations. 

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, cooling centers typically included parks, libraries, museums and other government-owned buildings. Residents have also had access to air-conditioned facilities such as movie theaters, restaurants, places of worship, schools and shopping malls. 

In the Santa Clarita Valley, for example, the county has opened the Stevenson Ranch Library as a cooling center, which opened Friday and is expected to open Saturday from noon to 6 p.m. amid triple-digit temperatures. 

“However, in light of the current pandemic and social distancing guidelines, many high-risk individuals do not have access to these air-conditioned areas as these locations are mostly closed to the public,” read the motion. “There is a great need to provide more county-operated cooling centers and take steps to prepare for warmer temperatures in a changing climate.” 

Barriers to access these locations are often due to limited access to transportation, and fear or inability to leave home due to COVID-19. 

In an effort to help overcome these barriers, the board will consider directing multiple county agencies, including the Public Health Department, to work with local jurisdictions in creating the heat emergency plan. 

The plan, according to the motion, must prioritize: a communication outreach strategy to the most vulnerable residents, heat-health education and enhanced warning communications. County staff must also report back with a plan that investigates existing policies to determine cooling center locations, an assessment of available centers and their ability to provide items such as drinking water and medical supplies, as well as an assessment of places such as school district buildings and churches to be used while considering social distancing guidelines. 

The Stevenson Ranch Library is expected to enforce physical distancing and face coverings during open hours. 
The board is set to meet 9:30 a.m. Tuesday.  

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