Despite promises, California doesn’t know how many people died in record summer heat wave
June 22, 2019
This story is part of the “Heat Wave” special section. Read other articles here.
People stand under a car in the aftermath of the heat wave in Temecula, Calif., on Wednesday, June 20, 2019. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma)
California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced on Tuesday that more than 1,200 people had died statewide since July 1, a figure that includes people who died in the heat wave earlier in the month. That’s more than twice the number California had previously counted — but still, the state has no idea how many died over the nearly weeklong period.
“I don’t know how many people in California died, but I know how many people in California died,” said Chris Karp, a reporter at the state’s Department of Public Health.
One possible reason for the uncertainty: The department’s estimates could change, depending on who they use to count deaths. So far in 2019, the department has counted the deaths of 719 residents in Santa Ana, who it said died of either heat exposure or a heat-related illness. Officials said they would look into using coroner reports to identify the exact number of deaths.
“We need to have a clear picture of what people died from,” said California Health Response Director Dr. Kristine Hartline, whose agency is conducting a survey to determine who died.
The figure that California public health officials have provided to date, based on coroner reports, is that 11 people died from heat-related illnesses in the San Bernardino County, between June 6 and 9, and 22 people died in Riverside County.
The figure also does not include 11 people who died with underlying medical conditions in southern California, nor the 15 people who died in Sonoma County.
“This is definitely a new data source that we can use,” Karp said Tuesday.
He said this month’s heat wave, along with July’s and August’s, was the “most intense” in California history.
The heat wave and July are two months in which, while daily temperatures dipped below the 100-degree mark in a single day, statewide temperatures hovered