A complicating factor in combating Covid hot spots: Heat

“The idea is that if everything fails, this building won’t fail,” said Jonathan Parfrey, executive director of Climate Resolve, a nonprofit working with the city to build out the hub.

Carmelita Ramirez-Sanchez, the conservatory’s director, said despite the stay-at-home orders, many of the young people who take music and production classes at the center started showing up during the heat wave. She said many of them lived with their families in small, crowded apartment buildings that lacked air conditioning and simply had nowhere else to go. And despite speculation that the warmer weather would kill the virus, that didn’t happen.

“There was the general fear: How hot is it going to get?” she said.

Rural areas have also been hit with the double whammy of heat and Covid — and often have fewer resources or protections.

Only three states — California, Washington and Minnesota — have standards that require employers to provide outdoor workers with shade, water and frequent breaks when the temperatures heat up. But these laws have the unintentional consequence of encouraging people to gather when they should be social distancing. Farm worker organizations are encouraging employers to provide more shaded structures to allow workers to maintain their distance.

But the big push is for federal heat standard protections. Legislation introduced in 2019, H.R. 3668 by Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.), would have compelled the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to create work standards around excessive heat exposure.

Leydy Rangel, a spokesperson for the United Farm Workers Foundation, said California, which was the first to enact such laws in 2005, strengthened them in 2015 after getting sued by the UFW.

“Since 2015, we’ve seen that these heat standards have saved countless lives so that’s why we’re urging them to be taken nationwide,” Rangel said.

Policy experts who follow extreme heat acknowledge that communities respond differently. Last year in New York, for example, the city offered a cooling assistance benefit to help households purchase and install air conditioners or fans. Chicago has a green alley program, Maryland has a resiliency hub grant program, and a ReGenesis Project in Spartanburg, S.C., turned an EPA grant into an investment of hundreds of millions of dollars into a Black community.

There’s hope of President Joe Biden’s administration signing into law an infrastructure bill with an emphasis on electrification, sustainability and investment in communities of color. Still, people in the environmental justice space say solutions should come from state and local governments. Sometimes, however, communities come together on their own to help one another out. For instance, organizers in Chicago launched a We Got Us initiative to distribute personal protective equipment and groceries to members of the community.

“Black folks have been doing this a long time — and not necessarily through any governmental groups or organizations,” McTeer Toney said. “This is not new to us. We’ve always had to figure our way out when we did not have the adequate resources and figure out how to protect our communities.”