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COVID-19 in the heat: Why doctors worry this heat wave could be extra dangerous

“Your body can quickly get into trouble," one doctor said

ST. LOUIS — With the dangerous heat settling into the Bi-State, doctors are worried about the coronavirus making things worse.

“In the United States, we can see over 600 deaths a year from heat-related illness,” said Dr. Robert Poirier, the chief of emergency medicine at Barnes-Jewish. “Now with COVID in the mix we fear it could be even higher.”

Why? Even minor COVID-19 symptoms can get dangerous when you’re dehydrated or breathing heavily.

“Your body can quickly get into trouble,” said Dr. Poirier.

It’s important to know signs of heat-related illness, like clammy skin, a slow pulse, or no longer sweating. The person should be taken somewhere cool immediately and seek medical help.

What about the face coverings required in St. Louis, St. Louis County and Illinois?

“The mask typically won't cause you to become heat-exhausted or go into a heat stroke. It's really not the mask. It's you being outside sweating not going into a cool environment, not staying hydrated,” said Dr. Poirier.

That’s why despite the heat, doctors recommend keeping masks while in close contact with others.

“You may feel the heat more wearing the mask, you do get used to it,” Dr. Poirier said. “Masks are crucial for preventing spread.”

CDC-recommended cotton face coverings are easy to breathe through but can get sweaty. If you're spending a long day outside, consider packing extras to swap out. Once they become damp, they're less effective. You should also pick masks that are lighter in color since they absorb less of the sun's heat.

“When you're starting to feel overheated in your mask you go socially distance yourself and go take a break,” Dr. Poirier said.

Always wash or sanitize your hands before removing your mask, and pay special attention that little ones and older adults stay hydrated. Dr. Poirier stresses that if you’re suffering a heat emergency, concern over the coronavirus should not prevent you from seeking medical attention. You can also call 211 to find local cooling shelters.

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