Code Blue alert extended until Thursday

BALTIMORE - With forecasted low temperatures and wind chills continuing to range between the single digits and low 20s,  Baltimore City Health Commissioner Oxiris Barbot, M.D. extended the Code Blue weather alert until Thursday, January 30. Baltimore City has been under a Code Blue declaration continuously since January 21 and Thursday will be the 19th declared Code Blue day this winter season.

"We remain in a pattern of cold temperatures and wind chill effects that can create dangerous conditions for anyone outside for an extended period of time," said Dr. Barbot. "We urge individuals to stay indoors in safely heated areas to minimize the risk of hypothermia. If people must go outside in the cold, we urge them to dress warmly and stay as dry as possible. For those experiencing homelessness, we encourage them to take advantage of shelter resources that are routinely provided."

There have been seven cold-related deaths so far this winter, according to the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.  Two of those deaths, a man between 45 and 64-years-old, and a woman, older than age 65, have occurred in Baltimore City.

Baltimore's homeless and seniors are among the most vulnerable populations in extreme cold weather. During the Code Blue alert, emergency shelters will operate with overflow capacity and workers will conduct outreach for vulnerable residents. 

During the Code Blue, the' Mayors Office of Human Services has requested that all city-funded shelters add more spaces during this weather event and encourages private homeless shelters to extend their hours and keep people indoors. 

The city's 311 line will maintain normal hours of 6am to 10 pm to direct customers to the appropriate agencies and to allow customers to report problems or request service. Citizens may also report issues at http://www.baltimorecity.gov or by calling 410-396-3100 after hours.

Code Blue is a multi-agency coordinated approach to providing vulnerable populations in Baltimore City with relief from extreme cold weather. Code Blue indicates an increased risk for cold injuries or even death for those exposed to low temperatures.  The program's goal is to reduce the number of hypothermia deaths and related illnesses in the City.  The greatest risk of illness and deaths due to cold weather is from December to February, with the risk peaking in January, typically the coldest winter month. 

Cold Weather Tips for Staying Healthy:

  • Wear multiple layers of loose-fitting clothing.
  • Always wear a head covering, like a hat and/or scarf, when outdoors.
  • Keep space heaters and candles away from flammable materials, such as curtains, furniture and loose clothing.
  • Drink plenty of fluids and avoid alcoholic beverages.
  • Check on those who are elderly and/or chronically ill.
  • Provide appropriate shelter for domestic animals.
  • Heart patients are advised against physical exertion in colder temperatures.
  •  Protect yourself against falls in icy or snowy conditions

Based on historical data from Baltimore and data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the vulnerable populations in cold weather situations include: 

  •  Street dwellers and the homeless 
  •  Individuals abusing drugs (heroin/methadone), alcohol, or other substances 
  • Economically disadvantaged and without home heating 
  • Elderly persons and young children 
  • Individuals suffering from pre-existing heart conditions and diabetes 
  • Individuals with mental health problems 

"People also need to remember safety tips for their pets," Dr. Barbot said. "Dogs and cats should not be left outside for extended times during this cold weather. Wind chill can affect a pet's life just as it can affect a human's life."

The Health Commissioner may declare a Code Blue alert based on the following criteria:

• When temperatures, including wind chill, are expected to be 13˚F or below. This threshold can be reached by having a temperature at or below 20˚F with 5 mph sustained winds or a temperature at or below 25˚F with 15 mph sustained winds.

• When other conditions (i.e. strong winds, forecasted precipitation for more than two hours, extended period of cold, sudden cold after a warm period) are deemed by the Health Commissioner to be severe enough to present a substantial threat to the life or health of vulnerable Baltimore citizens.

Additional cold-weather resources for the public and a listing of city and private shelters, is available on the Health Department's Code Blue website at http://www.baltimorehealth.org/codeblueinfo2.html. 

In the winter of 2012-2013, there were 10 Code Blue days declared by the Health Commissioner and five deaths in Baltimore City.  The prior winter (2011-2012) there were 11 Code Blue days and three hypothermia-related deaths.

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