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Emergency Cooling Centres

During days of extreme heat, it is very important that every person has access to a place to stay cool. Emergency Cooling Centres can provide protection for people who are vulnerable to heat-related illnesses. Conditions during high heat and humidity have the potential to cause dehydration, heat exhaustion, heat stroke and in some cases death. Everyone is at risk from exposure to hot temperatures. Some groups are in greater danger of being affected including older adults with chronic illness or who take certain medications, infants and preschool children, people who participate in physical activity, those who work outside for long periods of time, those who do not have air conditioning or easy access to a cool place, and people who are experiencing homelessness.

When Environment and Climate Change Canada issues a heat warning, extra precautions need to be taken by everyone, including municipalities. This report, A Harmonized Heat Warning and Information System for Ontario (HWIS), provides information on the roles and responsibilities of municipalities and public health units during a heat warning.

Refer to our webpage on Exposure to Hot/Cold Temperatures and our press release regarding extreme heat events for more information on how individuals can stay cool.

  • Municipal-owned buildings (e.g., community centre, library, arena, museum, etc.) with air conditioning.
  • Privately-owned buildings – Coordinate with a non-profit organization or owner of a private building (e.g., shopping mall, places of worship) and encourage residents to go there.
  • Parked air conditioned mobile vehicles – If there is a lack of suitable sites, consider using air conditioned vehicles such as public transit and school buses and recreational vehicles (RV).
  • Pools, splash pads, and wading pools – For residents who cannot get to a designated Emergency Cooling Centre, consider directing them to these cooling facilities instead. Consider setting up temporary or permanent shade structures (e.g., trees, built structures) near these amenities and converting all lane swims to open swims.

When opening an Emergency Cooling Centre consider who is most likely to use it and how they will get there. Having the centre(s) close to low income neighbourhoods (where home air conditioning may not be common), neighbourhoods with a large percentage of older adults (where mobility and car access may be limited), and neighbourhoods with a large percentage of people experiencing homelessness could better help those most vulnerable to extreme heat events.

  • Have an Emergency Action Plan in place for each Emergency Cooling Centre facility and be prepared to contact emergency officials in the case of severe illness at a facility.
  • Coordinate with partner organizations to get messages to the public.
  • Communicate to the public:
  • Other considerations:
    • Ways to transport people to/from the Emergency Cooling Centre(s).
    • Sending a mobile vehicle to vulnerable neighbourhoods for outreach.

Emergency Cooling Centres during COVID-19

If extreme heat is causing a health emergency, call 9-1-1. Individuals who are required to self-isolate due to COVID-19 (e.g., have  tested positive for COVID-19, have COVID-19 symptoms, have had close contact with a positive or suspected case of COVID-19), may visit an Emergency Cooling Centre if necessary while taking the following precautions:

  • When travelling to/from and while at an Emergency Cooling Centre:
    • Wear a face covering/mask at all times.
    • Practice hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette.
    • Practice physical distancing of at least 2 metres/6 feet.
    • Avoid use of public transportation, taxis or ride-shares.
  • When arriving at an Emergency Cooling Centre, inform a staff member prior to entering the site of your COVID-19 or self-isolation status during the screening process.

For more information on COVID-19 refer to our main COVID-19 webpage, our webpage on COVID-19 & Business, and our webpage on Health Equity and COVID-19.

  • Implement a process for screening for symptoms of COVID-19 for all staff. Use the Government of Ontario self-assessment tool, which can be adapted for use as a question and answer format, if needed. Staff with symptoms of COVID-19 should not be working and should be tested for COVID-19.
  • Implement a process for screening for symptoms of COVID-19 for all visitors to the Emergency Cooling Centre. Use the Government of Ontario self-assessment tool, which can be adapted for use as a question and answer format, if needed. Visitors who screen positive for symptoms of COVID-19 or report that they have a positive COVID-19 test result must stay in a room separate from visitors with no symptoms. To encourage honesty from visitors, emphasize that they can stay at the Emergency Cooling Centre even if they have symptoms or a positive COVID-19 test result.
  • Require that all visitors (some exceptions may apply) wear a face covering/mask in the Emergency Cooling Centre.
  • Ensure the staff person who is screening visitors is protected using personal protective equipment (PPE) and/or barriers and physical distancing.
  • Require that all visitors sign-in and provide their contact information. In the event that a visitor or staff member tests positive for COVID-19, this will make contact tracing by the Public Health Unit much easier and more efficient.
  • Separate bathrooms must be used for symptomatic and asymptomatic visitors.
  • If possible, consider entirely different sites for symptomatic and asymptomatic visitors.
  • Maintain physical distancing of at least 2 metres/6 feet within the Emergency Cooling Centre.
  • You may need to limit the number of visitors allowed in the Emergency Cooling Centre at one time. Consider the ethical dilemma posed by the potential decision to turn people away from an Emergency Cooling Centre and have alternative options prepared.
  • Use furniture or supplies (e.g., chairs, tape) to create separation between visitors.
  • People who live together do not have to physically distance.
  • Create one-way walking routes for visitors and staff.
  • If possible, have separate entrance and exit doors.
  • Consider using time limits for visitors and/or using an appointment-based system for time of use.
  • Anticipate a lineup outside of the Emergency Cooling Centre and clearly mark 2 metre/6 feet placements in the line. Encourage no smoking/vaping in the lineup.
  • Require that all visitors (some exceptions may apply) wear a face covering/mask in the Emergency Cooling Centre.
  • Provide hand washing stations and/or alcohol-based hand sanitizer in the Emergency Cooling Centre.
  • Provide garbage cans to encourage cleanliness.
  • Post signs and make announcements encouraging physical distancing, regular hand hygiene, proper use of a face covering/mask, and respiratory etiquette. Refer to the Signs and Resources You Can Print and Share section at the bottom of our COVID-19 webpage for downloadable sign resources.
  • Encourage visitors to bring their own water bottle to stay hydrated. Consider providing a source of water and a snack. Promote proper hydration and nutrition during extreme heat events. Avoid the use of shared water fountains and bottle filling stations.
  • Remove loose items (e.g., pens, pamphlets, brochures and other items) that may be touched by multiple people.
  • Commonly touched areas such as doors, door handles, light switches, seating including arm rests, and barriers between staff and visitors should be cleaned at least twice per day.
  • Commonly used cleaners and disinfectants are sufficient at killing COVID-19.
  • Ensure that the disinfectant you use has an 8-digit Drug Identification Number (DIN). Refer to this Health Canada list of disinfectants with evidence of use against COVID-19.
  • Follow manufacturer’s instructions when mixing cleaners or disinfectants.
  • Create and follow a cleaning procedure during each shift at the Emergency Cooling Centre.
  • Ensure that bathrooms are cleaned and disinfected as frequently as is necessary to maintain a sanitary condition. Bathrooms should be closely monitored for cleanliness. Read this fact sheet for more on Cleaning and Disinfecting Bathrooms Used by the Public.
  • Have proper training for employees on how to protect themselves and visitors, and for those who handle cleaners and disinfectants. Have PPE, hand washing facilities, and Safety Data Sheets available and bottles or containers properly labeled.
  • For more information, see this Public Health Ontario resource on cleaning and disinfecting in public settings.
  • The heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system of the Emergency Cooling Centre should be well maintained and in proper working order.
  • Use the highest efficiency filters possible in the HVAC system.
  • Sitting areas for visitors should not be placed near areas with high airflow (e.g., near air vents).