The press conference can be viewed in full in the video player below.
PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Local leaders warned a weary public of a potentially long summer amid an ongoing triple-digit heat wave that officials suspect has killed five people across the state.
During a press conference held Friday afternoon, Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury announced she would extend the emergency heat declaration made Sunday. That declaration was set to expire on this Saturday, but Kafoury said it will now span until Monday.
“This latest forecast shows that we are entering the most dangerous stretch of this extended heat wave,” Kafoury said.
KOIN 6 meteorologists are forecasting Saturday’s weather to reach up to 98 degrees with a great deal of direct sunshine.
“The evenings and nights will not bring any relief,” Kafoury warned. “After nearly a week of sustained heat, the temperatures that we’re going to experience today, tomorrow and possibly even Sunday will be even harder on our bodies — making the next several days critical when it comes to keeping people cool and safe.”
On Friday afternoon, the Oregon State Medical Examiner reported officials now suspect five people to have died from exposure to this week’s extreme heat, although none of them can yet be confirmed. Three deaths occurred in Multnomah County on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday, while one took place in Umatilla County on Tuesday and another happened in Marion County on Thursday.
The examiner’s office says that the designation of a heat-related death is preliminary and further investigation may reveal a cause of death that’s unrelated to hyperthermia.
Though city and county officials say they do not know the circumstances of this week’s likely heat-related deaths, but said they learned from the deadly heat dome in 2021 that most of the deaths were people 60 and older, died in their own homes and did not have air conditioning.
The press conference comes as emergency medical personnel have responded to 73 heat-related calls since Sunday and as the City of Portland struggles to distribute free air conditioning units to low-income households. However, the state now says it is out of units and is not sure when more will arrive.
The AC units come from state and city funding to avoid more heat deaths like those of the 2021 heat dome.
“What we experienced last year, 116 degrees, that was unthinkable,” Wheeler said. “But now it’s not. Now, it’s not only not unthinkable, we have to assume that this is going to be a regular occurrence in our city, and we have to act like it will be.”
“In fact, more than half of the heat-related fatalities were among our neighbors who lived in multifamily buildings,” Kafoury said before pleading with landlords and housing providers to check in with tenants for their safety.
KOIN 6 News saw some of the last of the 1,000 taxpayer-funded units heading out to low-income families on Thursday. Now, as hundreds of people remain on waitlists for the units, some of the non-profits that are helping distribute them have stopped taking names.
Local and national health officials have told people to focus on drinking enough water throughout the day — not just when thirsty.
“This is the time for our whole community to pay attention to this threat,” said Multnomah County Health Officer Dr. Ann Loeffler in a prepared released. “Individuals should watch their bodies, move to a cool place, keep hydrated and seek care even if it’s awkward. For people fortunate enough to be healthy and feel well and have a place to stay cool, help your neighbor. Identify two people you can check on, bring to a cool place, and generally help them find resources.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, those working in the heat should drink 1 cup, or 8 ounces, of water every 15-20 minutes, which is about 0.75 to 1 quart of water every hour. Officials caution not to overdo it — more than 48 ounces or 1.5 quarts per hour — as that can lead to a medical emergency.
Numerous cooling centers in the tri-county metro area have opened to help those vulnerable seek reprieve from the heat. Click on yours for the full list of local cooling centers: Multnomah County, Washington County and Clackamas County.
County officials announced that overnight cooling centers in Portland will yet again see their use extended and will remain open until at least Sunday morning. The centers opened on Tuesday, and officials estimate there is room for 250 people overnight, with more being promised if needed.
Those shelters are located at:
- Charles Jordan Community Center on North Foss Ave.
- East Portland Community Center on Southeast 106th Ave.
- The Portland Building on Southwest 5th
- Sunrise Center on East Burnside
Anyone needing a ride to a cooling center can call 211. TriMet has also said riders needing transportation to one of the centers will not have to pay a fare.
Officials urged the public to check on one another, especially those most vulnerable — described as older people who often live alone — to make sure everyone stays safe in a heat wave that is now entering its second week.
And the worst may be yet to come, the mayor said.
“It’s only July,” Wheeler warned. “This could be a long summer and we need to prepare for it.”
For more heatwave emergency resources, see KOIN 6 News’ ongoing coverage here.
KOIN 6 News’ Lisa Balick and Elise Haas contributed to this report.