Death toll from B.C.’s unprecedented heat wave likely to climb

Death toll from B.C.’s unprecedented heat wave likely to climb

As unprecedented high temperatures continued to grip British Columbia Tuesday, the BC Coroners Service reported at least 233 “sudden deaths” over a four-day period.

According to the service, 130 deaths wouldn’t be uncommon over a normal four-day period.

Lisa Lapointe, chief coroner, said the number will increase as data continues to be updated.

“I extend my condolences to those who have lost a loved one during this unprecedented time” she added, in a statement.

Vancouver, Burnaby, and Surrey police all released statements of their own saying the dead were mostly seniors, many of whom died in their own un-air conditioned homes.

At a news conference to announce the province will be moving to Step 3 of its pandemic re-start plan, Premier John Horgan was asked if more could have been done to prevent the deaths.

“As [Provincial Health Officer] Dr. Bonnie Henry said fatalities are a part of life,” Horgan said, answering a direct question by News 1130 reporter Liza Yuzda. “We were doing our best to break through all of the other noise to encourage people to take steps to protect themselves. But it was apparent to anyone who walked out their doors that we were in an unprecedented heat wave and again there’s a level of personal responsibility.”

The premier went on to call it a “tragedy upon a whole host” of others that the province has had to deal with.

Horgan’s comments immediately drew sharp reaction and condemnation online – with a number of memes and cartoons appearing suggesting the comments were callous and tone-deaf.

Earlier in the day, signs of a crisis were apparent, as numerous police officers, firefighters, and paramedics posted online, and communicated privately with reporters, that call volumes were at unprecedented levels amidst the heat. Many said lengthy delays for ambulances were spilling over and affecting other first responders like police and fire.

One VPD officer tweeted that in some cases, delays were so long, they were resorting to driving people to the hospital in their squad cars while instructing other people to call Uber.

E-Comm director of corporate communications, Jasmine Bradley, told the NL Noon Report that call volumes on Monday were up 56-per cent over normal, with over 7,700 calls taken by 9-1-1 dispatchers that day.

“But we know with that being said there were periods of time where people had to wait much longer. And so the longest period of time that a caller had to wait on 9-1-1 was 17 minutes” she said. “It’s a trend that we have been seeing since the heat wave began but as the province has been moving through COVID and the different phases of the re-start plan, volumes have been slowly starting to creep up.”

Asked directly if people have lost their lives during the heatwave due to ambulance delays, Troy Clifford, president of Ambulance Paramedics of BC answered yes, but was unable to elaborate on specifics.

“I have many people that told me people’s lives or outcomes have been effected by the ambulance delays there’s no question” he said, on the NL Noon Report. “I get the public sending me messages and I have to be careful of privacy but this is unsolicited stuff – and we’re also seeing it online – people aren’t making this up.”

As of Tuesday evening, numbers specific to the Interior and Kamloops were unavailable, and two days of requests to BC Emergency Health Services for comment had gone unanswered – though the requests were acknowledged as having been received.

A call for comment to the Ministry of Health Tuesday morning also went unanswered by deadline.

Both the paramedics union and E-Comm told NL News they are concerned about the Canada Day long weekend – with temperatures across the province not expected to retreat much, especially in the Interior and Okanagan.