The past few weeks throughout Baltimore County and the entire state of Maryland have been scorchers.

Luckily, people can escape this debilitating heat by visiting one of Baltimore County’s cooling areas:

Back River Community Center

801 Back River Neck Road

Essex, MD 21221

South East Regional Recreation Center

4021 North point Road

Dundalk, MD 21222

These cooling centers are open 7 days a week from 11:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. All visitors must wear masks and practice social distancing. Masks will be provided for those who need one.

According to the National Weather Service, weather patterns in the mid-Atlantic frequently result in extended periods of extremely high temperatures during the summer months.

Health experts from the county’s health department agree that the combination of high temperatures, humidity and poor air quality constitute a threat, especially to certain groups of people: children, the elderly and those with respiratory or other health problems.

Heat-related illnesses range from minor problems, such as heat stress and heat cramps, to serious illnesses such as heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Heat exhaustion often occurs after several days of high temperatures during which someone loses water and salt through perspiration. Symptoms include dizziness, weakness, fatigue and nausea.

Heat stroke, the most dangerous heat-related illness, can be fatal. It occurs when body temperature rises above 105 degrees. The patient initially feels lethargic, then often becomes confused and eventually loses consciousness.

If you or someone you know begins to experience symptoms of heat-related illness, seek shelter in a cool place. Drink water and use a cool, damp cloth on the face, arms and neck. Seek medical help if the symptoms persist.

The Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management considers the County in a period of possible heat emergency when the National Weather Service forecasts a Heat Index (a combination of air temperature and relative humidity) exceeding 110 degrees for three consecutive days.

When the heat index exceeds 105 degrees for two consecutive days and is expected to continue, the Office of Emergency Management will begin a heat watch. Public information officers will release information encouraging citizens to take protective actions.

When the heat index exceeds 105 degrees for four consecutive days and is forecast to continue, emergency planners will begin a heat warning. During a heat warning, county officials and public information officers will pursue an aggressive media campaign to alert the public to the dangers of heat exhaustion and heat stroke. The departments of Aging, Health and Social Services will be asked to identify vulnerable populations.

The heat watch or warning may be aggravated by the air quality. The Maryland Department of the Environment issues ozone forecasts consisting of Code Green, Code Yellow, Code Orange and Code Red.

Code Red mean air quality is unhealthy. Temperatures are in the 90 to 100 degree range, with hazy humid stagnant air. Those individuals with heart and respiratory ailments should limit outdoor activity. All others should reduce strenuous outdoor exercise. Follow recommended actions for other codes as much as possible.

Code Orange means air quality is approaching unhealthy. Temperatures are in the upper 80s to 90s with light winds. Refuel cars after dusk limit driving; share a ride or drive your newest, best-maintained vehicle; avoid mowing lawns with gas-powered mowers.

Code Yellow means air quality is moderate. Temperatures are mild in the upper 70s and 80s with winds under 15 knots. Consolidate trips to reduce vehicle usage; limit car idling; carpool or use mass transit.

Code Green means air quality is good. Temperatures are cool, with wind and rain typical of passing cold fronts.

During intense heat waves, health experts recommend people to stay inside or in shaded areas, use air conditioning, if your home has it. If it does not, use fans where possible, keep windows shaded and stay on the lowest level because heat rises. People without air conditioning could also visit a place that is air conditioned: a movie theater, a mall, the home of a friend or relative who has air conditioning.

Other recommendations are to avoid cooking and instead eat cold or prepared foods because operating a stove causes a house to heat dramatically.

Drinking plenty of water or non-alcoholic beverages, wearing loose-fitting, light-colored clothing and a wide-brimmed hat and applying sunscreen (SPF of 15 or higher) 20 minutes before going out into the sun are also other ways to stay healthy during extended periods of heat.

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