Metro Phoenix ahead of last year’s record pace for heat-associated deaths

Aug 9, 2023, 1:00 PM

Patrons are warned about the heat at the Desert Botanical Garden entrance, Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2023, in Phoenix. The Maricopa County Department of Public Health has now confirmed 59 heat-associated deaths in 2023.

PHOENIX – For the first time this year, metro Phoenix is ahead of 2022’s record pace for heat-associated deaths.

Maricopa County Department of Public Health has now confirmed 59 heat-associated deaths in 2023, according to the agency’s weekly report for July 30-Aug. 5. The total surged by 20 since the previous week.

Another 345 deaths remained under investigation for possible heat factors.

Through the same number of weeks last year, the county had confirmed 44 heat-associated deaths and had 287 more under investigation.

How many heat-associated deaths were confirmed in 2022?

Maricopa County confirmed 425 heat-associated deaths in all of 2022, the most in a year and a 25% increase from 2021.

Phoenix, the state and county’s largest city, endured its hottest July ever this year, but the number of confirmed heat-associated deaths trailed last year’s pace until the latest report.

The previous week’s report showed 39 confirmed heat-associated deaths and 312 cases under investigation. At the same time in 2022, 42 heat-associated deaths were confirmed and 282 cases were under investigation.

More statistics about 2023 heat-associated deaths

About a quarter of this year’s 59 heat-associated deaths were people 75 and older, and more than 70% occurred outdoors.

Of the 16 indoor deaths, air conditioning wasn’t present in two cases. Where air conditioning existed, the unit wasn’t working in 11 cases, it wasn’t in use for two, and the power was out for one.

The homeless population accounts for 29% of the Phoenix area’s heat-associated deaths so far this year.

How does Maricopa County determine heat-associated deaths?

Maricopa County comes up with its heat-associated death figures by adding together heat-caused deaths, in which heat or heat exposure is listed on the death certificate as the primary cause of death, with heat-related deaths, in which heat exposure is listed as a secondary cause.

Of this year’s confirmed deaths, 40 are classified as heat-caused and 19 as heat-related.

Cases listed as under investigation are deaths in which the county’s Medical Examiner’s Office suspects that heat played a role.

Why heat-associated death data is lagging

Totals can change dramatically during the course of investigations that often include toxicology tests that can take months, so the latest reports don’t reflect the true toll of this summer’s extreme heat.

“We will likely not have a complete count of deaths resulting from this heat wave for some time,” Sonia Singh of the county health department said in a written statement to The Associated Press last month. “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 for 2022 by the end of the year. But the final number grew to its record level as more investigations were completed.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Metro Phoenix ahead of last year’s record pace for heat-associated deaths