Maricopa County saw record number of heat-associated deaths in 2021

Oct 5, 2022, 8:00 PM | Updated: Oct 6, 2022, 6:37 am
A man flies a drone as the sun rises over Lake Powell at Alstom Point on September 3, 2022 near Pag...
A man flies a drone as the sun rises over Lake Powell at Alstom Point on September 3, 2022 near Page, Arizona. The federal government has proposed an unprecedented plan to cut back on water supplies from the Colorado River for Arizona, Nevada and California, where millions of people rely on the river for water and power. Climate change-driven drought continues to lower water levels at Lake Powell, the second biggest reservoir in the nation, to historically low levels. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
(Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

PHOENIX — Maricopa County endured more heat-associated deaths in 2021 than in any other year since 2006, when the county began recording such data.

Last year, 339 people experienced heat-associated deaths, a 70% increase from 2019, according to an annual report by the Maricopa County Department of Public Health.

The department classified deaths as heat-caused — when environmental heat directly led to the death of a person — and heat-related — when environmental heat contributed but was not in the direct sequence of events that caused death.

There were 194 heat-caused deaths in the county last year, a decrease from 2020.

The highest percentage of deaths occurred in July at 32%, according to the report.

“This tragic number of deaths shows us that heat continues to be a major issue affecting the health of Maricopa County residents,” Dr. Nick Staab, medical epidemiologist at MCDPH, said in a press release. “Looking deeper at the numbers, we see that anyone can be at risk of serious illness and death from heat, and everyone needs to take precautions during the entire heat season.”

There were 19 excessive heat warning days in the county in 2021, on which 25% of the heat-associated deaths occurred.

Homeless people accounted for 130 deaths, more than any other living situation group in the report.

Substance abuse was a major factor in these fatal incidents, as 60% of heat-associated deaths involved drugs, alcohol or both.

Other demographic statistics showed that males made up 81% of heat-associated deaths, and the age group between 50-64 years old was most affected.

African Americans had the highest heat-associated death rates out of the county’s ethnic groups with 10 per 100,000 people, 45 total.

American Indian residents were second with nine deaths per 100,000 people, 23 total.

The vast majority of heat-associated deaths were of Maricopa County residents at 86%, to which Staab said, “… when we think we’ve gotten used to Arizona summers, we need to take precautions like staying hydrated and avoiding outdoor activity in the hottest part of the day.”

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Maricopa County saw record number of heat-associated deaths in 2021