Montreal heat waves may have claimed 14 lives this year, public health says

Some health authorities in Montreal believe this summer's heat waves would've claimed more lives, if COVID-19 hadn't already taken them.

Public health authorities believe heat waves would've claimed more lives if COVID-19 hadn't already done so

Of those who died in a heat wave in 2018, two out of three were 65 or older. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

Montreal public health is looking into 14 deaths that may be linked recent heat waves in the city, including seven deaths that occurred last week.

But officials believe that death toll may have been higher if not for the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Maxime Roy said the agency is looking into the theory that there has been "mortality displacement."

He explained many of the people who would be at-risk in the heat, such as the elderly or chronically ill, are also at-risk of serious COVID-19 complications, and many died.

"These people would have been at-risk in a heat wave and might have died." 

Montreal saw a particularly deadly heat wave two years ago, when at least 66 people died. Of those who died in 2018, two out of three were 65 or older, and nearly three in four — 72 per cent — had a chronic health condition. 

At the height of the pandemic, Montreal averaged about 500 COVID-19-related deaths per week. But the pandemic isn't the only reason the death toll is lower this year, Roy said. 

In the aftermath of the 2018 deaths, public health officials tried to figure out ways to better protect people at the greatest risk of dying in a heat wave.

Following a report by the regional health board, the city was able to better identify the buildings that were susceptible to heat. 

"Firefighters, police officers, community members, went door-to-door to make sure people were taking measures to reduce the heat," said Roy. 

"But there's still work to be done, to put in place a registry of vulnerable people." 

Just last week, Montreal saw humidex values reach upwards of 40, prompting the city to take special measures and open additional air-conditioned spaces to the public.