Even though Pittsburgh didn’t have the most extreme temperatures in the polar vortex, the mercury did go below zero. And as a result, hospital emergency departments saw an uptick in visits, including UPMC, which saw 12 cases following the worst of the cold.
“Four had total body cold injuries, which is hypothermia, requiring varying types of care to raise their temperature,” said Dr. Donald Yealy, chair of emergency medicine at UPMC. “The remaining eight have had extremity, whether it’s foot or hand, cold injuries – frostbite – that requires warming of the extremity and in some cases treatment very much like a burn because the tissues underneath are at risk.”
While temperatures are expected to stay above zero, they’re still below freezing. So while 20 degrees may feel warmer than sub-zero, there is still danger of exposure.
“Even at 19 degrees there’s a significant threat of cold-related injuries,” Yealy said. “It’s probably a little less than it is when it’s below zero; it just means you need a little bit longer exposure time. But if you’re not careful and have either prolonged exposure or you have underlying medical conditions or are on certain medications, you’re at risk way above the normal winter temperatures.”
Recommendations to prevent cold-related injury include limiting exposure to extreme temperatures, making sure the body is protected if you must go outdoors with appropriate shoes, coats, hats, scarves and gloves and ensuring your home heating equipment is running properly.
The Allegheny County Department of Emergency Services announced Wednesday that as temperatures have begun to rise from the deep freeze, warming centers located throughout the county have either closed or were in the process of closing. Allegheny County has also deactivated its Emergency Operations Center.