Toronto Star: Trapped inside by the pandemic, Torontonians are facing a new hurdle: handling a heat wave

Posted July 9, 2020

In Toronto’s downtown Annex neighbourhood, Madeline Jarvis-Cross is sweltering in a third-floor apartment.
 
With few windows and carpeting, the apartment has been retaining the heat. The heat wave gripping Toronto and the GTA adds a new layer to the closures and restrictions brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. As of Wednesday, the city had experienced six consecutive days of temperatures rising above 30 C, prompting heat warnings from the city and new restrictions on water usage for smaller regions around the GTA.
 
Jarvis-Cross is one of the many Torontonians weathering the sweltering conditions without air conditioning, while also following physical distancing guidelines meant to keep people safe from the virus.
 
“Yeah, you can’t go swimming. People are going to the beach — I don’t think it's a good idea,” Jarvis-Cross said. Previously, “if I didn't have my office, I would work at a library because they’re air-conditioned. But (now) you can’t do that.”
 
Working from home during the heat wave has also meant a new set of challenges: her computer is overheating. “A lot of the work I would usually be doing, for my job … I can't really do as much as I would normally do because my computer overheats,” Jarvis-Cross said.
 
She’s struggling to sleep through the night. “I am not usually a person that has trouble sleeping, but I wake up … upwards of 10 times a night just because it's so hot,” Jarvis-Cross said. “And then you don't feel good any part of the day. I always just feel physically uncomfortable.”
 
Michelle Nochomovitz, who lives in the city’s west-end Bloorcourt neighbourhood, told the Star that poor insulation in her home means that while the winters are cold, the summers are sweltering.
 
The pandemic means that a job hunt that was underway before the shutdown has been put on hold. “Unfortunately, I still can’t afford a proper cooling unit or anything like that,” Nochomovitz said.
 
To cool off, she’s been drinking ice water and running fans around the apartment, while trying to dress in light clothing. When she can, Nochomovitz heads to the park because it is often cooler outside.
 
She estimated the temperature has climbed up to 35 C inside her unit.
 
“The problem this year, obviously with COVID is that you have to be so careful when you're out,” Nochomovitz said, noting that with high-risk friends and family members, she’s taking extra precautions to avoid getting sick — which means limiting trips out of the house. “I'm really trying to minimize any kind of exposure.”
 
In Toronto, “there are no bylaws that say you cannot have a window unit,” said Marva Burnett, president of ACORN Canada, an advocacy group for social and economic justice. “As long as they’re properly installed, it should be in the window.”
 
Burnett noted that at this point, there is no law mandating a maximum indoor temperature like there is for minimum temperatures in the winter.
 
“Tenants should be allowed to be comfortable and cool in their own units,” she said.
 
Torontonians aren’t alone in suffering through the hot weather, which has reached across Ontario this week. Further in the GTA, Krystal McLean said that it is often hotter in the 18th-floor apartment she shares with her mother than it is outside.
 
“My mom and I sit on the balcony a lot. Sometimes when we leave the balcony door open, you can feel waves of thick heat leaving our apartment,” she explained. “We get so exhausted sometimes because of the heat, there’s days where we don’t even cook or make food because we don’t have the energy.”
 
McLean said she hopes to see central air conditioning “considered as much of an essential as central heating during the cooler months.”
 
On Monday, the city opened 15 emergency cooling centres slated to remain open for the duration of the heat warning, open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and offering accessible and air-conditioned spaces for residents without access to a cool space.
 
The city has moved to implement measures aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19 inside the facilities. Masks are being provided at the cooling centres for residents without them, the city said.
 
The heat was interrupted briefly Wednesday afternoon as a torrential downpour of rain drenched the city and caused severe flooding in several neighbourhoods. The city was put on a brief tornado watch before it was downgraded to a severe thunderstorm watch, Environment Canada indicated.
 
Prior to the downpour, though, an unusually low amount of rain landed in the Toronto area throughout the month of June.
 
Since June 10, the last time Environment Canada reported a significant downpour in the Toronto area, the city has experienced soaring temperatures that have prompted heat warnings from the city and water restrictions for smaller regions around the GTA.
 
Dave Phillips, senior climatologist with Environment and Climate Change Canada, has dubbed it the “summer of dryness.”
 
“We’ve had an unusually low amount of rain,” said Phillips. “While the heat we’re experiencing isn’t record-setting compared to other years, it’s exacerbated by the sheer lack of rain and moisture.”
 
Toronto typically sees between 85 to 90 millimetres of rainfall in June, Phillips said. Yet only seven millimetres fell this June, less than 10 per cent of the month’s typical rainfall numbers.
 
Environment and Climate Change Canada issued a heat warning for Toronto on July 1 and extended it to the end of this week. The agency issues heat warnings when it forecasts two or more consecutive days with temperatures north of 31 C with minimum nighttime temperatures of 20 C.
 
The record for consecutive days over 30 C in Toronto was set in the summer of 1953, when the city faced 12 consecutive days of temperatures over 30 C.
 
 
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Article by Jacob Lorinc for the Toronto Star

 

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