British Columbia thermal dome death toll updated to 595
The thermal dome is long gone, but the aftermath still hangs over the legislature and some government offices where the incredible death toll is still being addressed.
The count was updated Monday to 595 people. For reference, it has taken 10 months since the start of the pandemic for deaths from COVID-19 to reach this level. The heated dome claimed a lot in the space of a week or so.
The number of overdose deaths averages around 170 per month. So, in the space of a few suffocating days, the heated dome killed as many people as the overdoses in the span of about 14 weeks.
“Never again” is the obvious position, as all the different agencies that had to scramble last summer made plans to respond better next time around.
Chief Coroner Lisa Lapointe said the office is collecting as much information as possible about each of the deaths to “inform future evidence-based prevention efforts.” It will take several more months to complete these reports.
Once they’re tabled, a death review committee will make recommendations, for publication in late spring 2022.
Results to date show that three-quarters of the deaths have occurred in the Vancouver Coast and Fraser Health Zones. Forty-eight have been reported on Vancouver Island, 18 in the city of Victoria. People aged 70 and over accounted for 69% of deaths. No heat-related deaths have been reported in children.
At its peak, the heatwave killed 362 people in just two days, on June 28 and 29. Statistically, that’s the equivalent of over a year of road deaths in just 48 hours.
There is an important data point in the reports to date that should be highlighted by the Death Review Committee. As many as 96% of heat deaths occurred in a residential setting. This means that they died surrounded by neighbors.
This expands the questions about the slammed ambulance service falls and the late responses from city governments to include us all. Many things in modern life make it difficult to know neighbors, but it is appalling to think of the number of deaths that could have been avoided if people had checked out elderly neighbors.
(My personal examination of the heat wave leaves me dismayed at how this was overlooked.)
Lapointe touched on the issue on Monday, saying, “Having a plan to check in with loved ones who live alone, being aware of cooler, air-conditioned areas in your neighborhood, and heeding early warnings about extreme weather conditions are important. simple steps that will help ensure we are all well prepared and safe.
Check in on family members by all means in an emergency, but checking out older neighbors you may not know well is a good idea.
Death review committees have been convened in recent years to examine issues such as the opioid crisis, medically assisted deaths, intimate partner violence and fatal air taxi crashes.
Deaths from thermal domes have occupied the legislature on and off since it resumed operations last month. The opposition Liberals landed there on the second day and have returned there several times since, questioning the government’s overall response.
Interest was heightened by Premier John Horgan’s initial response. At a press conference held in the middle of the heatwave to announce the lifting of certain pandemic restrictions, he was asked about the threat to life the heat posed. He has said impatiently that death is a part of life and clearly disdained the problem. He has paid for the position ever since and later said he was “stunned” by the good news that day.
Although he said at the time that the government was not to blame for the deaths, Human Rights Watch, an international group, took note of his government’s response and raped it.
The BC Center for Disease Control also wrote a brief report on the disaster, saying it was a “one in a thousand” event, but could become more common with climate change.
Health Minister Adrian Dix relied on the outlier nature of the event in subsequent defenses of the government’s response.
“People acted appropriately, but we need to learn from it. “
The death panel will likely highlight how badly the poor have been affected and recommend countermeasures for the next time. But everyone has something to learn from this brutal week.