Deaths more than doubled on Island during heat wave, preliminary data show

Deaths more than doubled on Vancouver Island during last week’s record-breaking heat wave, according to preliminary date from the B.C. Coroners Service.

Ninety-seven Island deaths were reported to the coroner between June 25 and July 1. The average for the same period over the past five years is about 42.

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The spike was even more dramatic in other parts of B.C.

The Fraser Health region, which stretches from Boston Bar to Burnaby, saw one of the biggest increases, with 344 deaths last week, nearly seven times higher than average, while Vancouver Coastal Health saw 193, four times higher than average.

Reported deaths also more than doubled in Interior Health and Northern Health, to 110 and 32, respectively.

Overall, the heat wave is suspected to have led to 579 deaths across British Columbia. A total of 777 deaths were reported in the province from June 25 to July 1 — nearly four times the five-year average of 198.

None of the deaths has been confirmed as heat-related and investigators are still working to establish how and why so many more people died, the B.C. Coroners Service said.

Death by heat is notoriously hard to track as rising temperatures can trigger chronic illnesses, and deaths are often recorded as heart or kidney failure.

However, last week, B.C.’s chief coroner Lisa Lapointe said she suspects at least a portion of the deaths to be heat related; many of those who died were found alone in poorly ventilated apartments.

“This, frankly, took many of us off guard,” Lapointe said Wednesday. “I think it’s very likely many of us misunderstood the extreme risk.”

The B.C. Coroners Service is conducting a broader investigation into what caused the spike in deaths, whether COVID-19 restrictions made conditions worse and what might be done in the future to save lives in the face of climate-driven extreme heat events.

The results are expected in the coming months.

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