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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 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:
    • Hours of operation.
    • Whether or not food and/or drinks will be provided. Promote proper hydration and nutrition during extreme heat events.
    • That there are no cots or overnight access.
    • Rules that must be followed during extraordinary circumstances (e.g., COVID-19 pandemic).
  • 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 and Respiratory Illnesses

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, if you have any symptoms or have been exposed to someone who is sick:
  • When arriving at an Emergency Cooling Centre, inform a staff member prior to entering the site of your symptoms, or COVID-19 status during the screening process.

For more information on COVID-19 refer to our main COVID-19 webpage.

  • 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.
  • Although not mandatory, we would advise that you welcome visitors to wear a face covering/mask in the Emergency Cooling Centre.
  • We suggest the staff person who is screening visitors is wear a well fitted mask and/or barriers and physical distancing.
  • If possible, use different bathrooms for symptomatic and asymptomatic visitors.
  • If possible, consider entirely different sites for symptomatic and asymptomatic visitors.
  • Consider maintaining physical distancing of at least 2 metres/6 feet within the Emergency Cooling Centre.
  • Use furniture or supplies (e.g., chairs, tape) to create separation between visitors.
  • Anticipate a lineup outside of the Emergency Cooling Centre. Encourage no smoking/vaping in the lineup.
  • Welcome visitors to 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.
  • Encourage physical distancing and masks as needed, regular hand hygiene, and respiratory etiquette.
  • 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.
  • Commonly touched areas such as door handles, light switches, seating including arm rests, and barriers between staff and visitors should be cleaned as often as necessary to maintain cleanliness.
  • 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.