Oregon heat deaths at 107; Brown orders emergency heat rules


PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — A total of 107 Oregonians suffered deaths related to the recent heat wave that rocked the region, the Oregon State Medical Examiner’s Office said Tuesday.

This update brings Multnomah County’s death count up to 67, Marion’s up to 13 and Clackamas’ to 11. All other listed counties had less than 10 deaths.

The Oregon State Medical Examiner said the people who died were between the ages of 37 and 97.

This death count is from preliminary data. The number may continue to grow as investigations are updated and new information is added by various County Medical Examiners.

Many of those who died in the high heat were alone, in a spot without air conditioning or a fan. Social service agencies said they warned thousands of clients about the heat and made a lot of visits to check before the extreme heat hit.

The heat wave shut down the city pools. There were only 3 cooling centers, and getting there was an issue since the light rail was shut down. There were also problems with the emergency line 211.

Emergency rules for workers

Governor Brown appears on CBS’ Face the Nation Sunday, July 4, 2021. (CBS)

On “Face The Nation” Sunday, Gov. Kate Brown said these extreme heat events are “a harbinger of things to come.”

Tuesday afternoon, Gov. Kate Brown ordered Oregon OSHA to enact emergency rules to protest workers in extreme heat. In a release, Brown’s office said these “temporary rules are expected to expand requirements for employers to provide shade, rest time, and cool water for workers during high and extreme heat events.”

Permanent rules are not yet determined but are expected to be put into place by Fall 2021, officials said.

“While Oregon OSHA has been working to adopt permanent rules related to heat, it became clear that immediate action was necessary in order to protect Oregonians, especially those whose work is critical to keeping Oregon functioning and oftentimes must continue during extreme weather,” Brown said in a statement.

She also ordered an after-action review to help determine how the state can improve its response in extreme heat situations. Brown also plans to meet with various agencies and leaders in the next few weeks for recommendations and ideas on how to better handle these events.

Medicaid members may be eligible to receive air conditioners if they have a qualifying underlying condition, the governor’s office said.

KOIN 6 News checked with both Multnomah County and the City of Portland to see what steps they’re taking to deal with another similar situation. Each office said they either haven’t had their after-event meeting or are still working to figure out how to do a better job next time.

But no specifics are available at this time. However, the City of Portland said they won’t commit to keeping the pools open since they are trying to balance the safety of both guests and staff — but they are looking into certain protocols for the next time.

On Sunday when the Multnomah County Medical Examiner released their latest death count, Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury said a much deeper analysis of what happened during the record-shattering heat wave and how to plan for the future will be conducted.

“Death investigators are continuing to respond to suspected cases in what has been an unprecedented mass casualty event,” county health officials said in a release Sunday. “They will be conducting an additional investigation to bring what is still a very blurry picture into sharp focus.”

Because several casualties are suspected to be among the homeless population, health officials said they cannot release the exact number of those deaths yet. 

Hundreds are believed to have died from the heat over the past week in the U.S. Northwest and southwestern Canada. Records included 116 degrees Fahrenheit in Portland and 108 F in Seattle. The hot weather was headed east, with temperatures well above 100 F (38 C) forecast Sunday for parts of Idaho and eastern Montana.

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