Phoenix morgue brings in coolers to handle rise in deaths during heat wave

Jul 28, 2023, 9:13 AM

The Maricopa County morgue in Phoenix brought in coolers to store bodies during the July 2023 heat ...

The Maricopa County morgue in Phoenix brought in coolers to store bodies during the July 2023 heat wave. (Facebook Photo/Maricopa County)

(Facebook Photo/Maricopa County)

PHOENIX — The Maricopa County morgue in Phoenix brought in coolers to store bodies during the ongoing heat wave, authorities said.

“At this point, it’s too early to say how much of the increase in decedents is related to heat. Our forensic pathologists still need to complete investigations,” county spokesman Jason Berry told KTAR News 92.3 FM in an email Thursday.

“But, obviously, this July we’ve seen intense, record-breaking heat with many nights above 90 degrees and most days above 110 degrees.”

Berry said coolers have been part of operational planning for the Medical Examiner’s Office for some time, but they were used only once before — during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

ABC15 reported Thursday that the morgue was at 106% of standard capacity but hadn’t yet started using the 10 coolers that arrived Tuesday.

How many Valley deaths are related to heat?

Through last week, the Maricopa County Department of Public Health confirmed 25 heat-associated deaths for the year. Another 249 deaths were under investigation to determine if heat was a factor.

Sonia Singh, supervisor with the health department’s communications office, said the latest weekly heat-associated death reports don’t reflect the true toll of the ongoing heat wave.

“We will likely not have a complete count of deaths resulting from this heat wave for some time,” Singh said in a written statement to The Associated Press this week. “This is for a couple reasons: 1) the deaths are reported from multiple sources and may not come in to Public Health right away, and 2) these deaths sometimes take a while to go from a suspect case to a confirmed case.”

For example, Maricopa County had confirmed 378 heat-associated deaths confirmed for 2022 by the end of the year. But the final number grew to a record 425 as more deaths that were under investigation were confirmed as heat-associated. More than half of the 2022 heat-associated deaths occurred in July.

Records pile up during wave of excessive heat in Phoenix

The Valley has been under an excessive heat warning since July 1. The warning is set to expire Saturday night after multiple extensions.

Thursday was the 28th consecutive day the temperature reached at least 110 degrees in Phoenix, shattering the city’s record streak of 18 days from June 1974.

Thursday was the 15th day of 2023 with highs of 115 degrees or more in Phoenix, breaking the record for a year set in 2020.

All of Phoenix’s 115-degree days this year were recorded in July, which is on pace to be the hottest month in the city’s history, according to the National Weather Service.

Scientists have also calculated that this month will be the hottest globally on record and likely the warmest human civilization has seen.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Phoenix morgue brings in coolers to handle rise in deaths during heat wave