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State heat deaths top 100; Brown orders emergency heat rules

While Portland reached a record temperature of over 110 degrees Sunday, June 27, 2021 people gathered at Salmon Street Springs water fountain in Portland to cool off. (Mark Graves/The Oregonian via AP)

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Oregon's death toll from a record-smashing heat wave last weekend topped 100 Tuesday while Gov. Kate Brown issued heat-related directives meant to protect people from extreme heat in the future.

Of the 107 deaths recorded so far, the youngest victim was 37 and the oldest was 97. In Multnomah County, where most of the deaths occurred, officials said many victims had no air conditioners or fans and died alone.

The governor Tuesday directed agencies to complete a review to determine how the state can improve its heat-response efforts and outcomes. She also plans to meet with agency heads, county leaders, Oregon’s Medicaid coordinated care organizations, and impacted communities over the next several weeks to hear their recommendations and ensure steps are being taken immediately to prepare for the next heat wave.

Oregonians who are Medicaid members may be eligible to receive air conditioners, Brown added.

She also directed Oregon's Occupational Health and Safety Administration to enact emergency rules to protect workers from extreme heat after a farm laborer collapsed and died June 26 at a nursery in rural St. Paul.

The temporary rules are expected to expand requirements for employers to provide shade, rest time and cool water for workers during heat events, her office said. Oregon OSHA will continue working on permanent rules, which are expected to be adopted this fall.

“I am concerned that our recent record-breaking heat wave in the Willamette Valley is a harbinger of what’s to come," Brown said in a statement. "Even with the immense resources directed to preparing communities for the excessive heat, it is critical that we need to be better prepared, flexible and resilient. At the same time, we must center the voices of historically underserved communities in our emergency planning efforts to make sure we’re meeting all community members where they are.”