How to keep your cool when working

It’s finally feeling like summer! A wave of days over 80 degrees, perhaps into the 90s, are in the forecast next week. But things are different this year with COVID-19. Going to a movie theater, a mall, or the library to cool off after work aren’t possible for most of us in King County in this phase of the state’s Safe Start reopening plan. Remember to let safety be your guide. Check with your supervisor or manager for specific information or directions related to your job.

Tips from Public Health specific to COVID and heat:

COVID-19 risk adds an additional concern during hot weather. Unlike the flu, hot weather does not decrease the transmission of COVID-19.

  • Cities will not be able to set up cooling centers this summer with the increase in COVID-19 spread.
  • Many swimming beaches may be closed or lifeguards may not be present. Never swim alone, use lifejackets in or near rivers and lakes, and heed Public Health warnings about crowded parks. Get more information about safe swimming in COVID times.
  • Wearing a mask is a key measure to prevent the spread of COVID; in hot weather, wearing a mask can also contribute to overheating. Avoid spending time in hot indoor and outdoor locations where you would have to wear a mask. Take a safely distanced “mask break” if you are getting too hot and uncomfortable:
    • Go outside and make sure you are distanced from others by at least 6 feet.
    • Remove your mask to breathe and cool down.
    • Put the mask back on before returning to the venue or activity where the mask is required.

For everyone:

  • Keep window blinds or curtains closed when outdoor temperatures skyrocket. This reduces indoor temps and reduces the strain on the HVAC equipment, if in use.
  • Keep windows and doors closed in locations with HVAC.
  • Drink plenty of fluids (but avoid alcohol, caffeine, or lots of sugar that can make you lose body fluid).
  • Dress in layers to manage varying temperatures.
  • Minimize extended time outside.
  • Turn off unnecessary lights and unplug unused electrical equipment.
  • Take a tepid shower or bath to cool down.
  • Avoid hot and heavy meals that can raise your body temperature.
  • Check on vulnerable family or neighbors by phone or text to make sure they are safe and cool.
  • NEVER leave pets or children in a hot car. Call 911 if see a child or pet in a hot car.
  • Learn the warning signs of heat illness that happens when the body can’t cool down. If someone has heat stroke, they need to call 911 or go to the emergency room immediately.

For those who work in county buildings:

  • The county recommends against using indoor fans inside county buildings, as they can create “hot zones” in other places in the building and can create a fire hazard. Please don’t block or manipulate air vents or returns.
  • The County standard for building temperature range is 70-74 degrees.
  • As a reminder, feel free to print out and post the FMD Summer Heat Reminder Flyer (PDF) in your workspace.
  • FMD staff will help close the blinds on unoccupied floors of county buildings.

Think outside the box if you’re teleworking and it’s hot:

  • If you can, buy a portable or window air conditioning unit for your telework location. Now might be the best time to make the investment.
  • Box fans, usually about $40 or less, can help if you don’t have AC.
  • Take a break and run through the sprinkler or buy an inexpensive wading pool and dip your feet in.
  • Ice cubes in a wash cloth feel wonderful on the back of your neck!
  • Ventilate and cool your house off in the evening and night when temperatures are cooler.

If you must be outside:

  • The most important thing to do is to drink lots of water. When it’s really hot, drink up to a quart of water every hour with moderate to heavy physical activity.
  • Carry a water bottle.
  • Consider sports drinks for electrolyte replacement when sweating a lot.
  • Wear loose, light clothing with materials designed to wick sweat.
  • Wear a hat with a brim.
  • Check with your supervisor about adjusting your work hours to start earlier, when it’s cooler.
  • Stop all activity if you become lightheaded, confused, weak, faint or have a pounding heart or trouble breathing. Tell your supervisor if you or a colleague experience any of these symptoms of heat-related illness.

The county offers training for supervisors about how to help employees deal with the heat and keep employees safe. Keep in mind that personal factors, such as fitness level, age, obesity, alcohol use (even the night before), nicotine use, etc., affect an individual’s susceptibility to heat illnesses.

For more information, visit the King County Emergency News blog post “Keep your cool this summer.”