Despite promises, California doesn’t know how many people died in record summer heat wave
This story has been corrected.
The heat wave that killed hundreds of people across the state last month is officially the deadliest for California in at least 50 years, and officials there still aren’t sure how many died.
The state Department of Public Health confirmed Monday that 366 people died from July to September, a figure that exceeds the number of deaths during the three-month period in 2002, the state’s deadliest heat wave.
The state’s death toll, which is likely to change, is much lower than the number of excess deaths attributed to the record heat, which the California Department of Health Services attributed to a surge in cases of the heat-related condition known as heat stroke.
Public health experts say that because the official death toll was lower than expected, it could be used as a comparison for future heat-related deaths in the state.
“While the numbers are probably low at this point, it’s a good point to highlight that the heat is still very much a risk. We don’t have any idea of how much this is going to affect mortality rates, although for me they are still quite low,” said Dr. Michael Green, the acting director of the Bureau of Communicable Disease Control at the California Department of Public Health. “These numbers will vary widely based on many factors, including access to health care, but this is good for the public to know there are still a lot of people who could be at risk.”
The figures are based on a sample of all deaths occurring in California during the three-month period.
As of Monday, California had reported 12 deaths from the heat that occurred in the last two weeks: two of them were from heat-related causes and four were attributed to cooling-related heat illnesses, Green said.
The statewide death toll in the week ending Nov. 4, to be sure, was also at the low end of the range of estimates, at 5