PHOENIX – Trying to stay safe during a global pandemic is hard enough, but people in Southwest desert cities like Phoenix and Las Vegas where temperatures can soar into the triple digits are also trying to protect themselves from the brutal heat.
A 48,000-square-foot (4,459-square-meters) hall of the Phoenix Convention Center was being transformed Friday into a daytime heat relief center for homeless people, with city officials offering free transportation to get them there.
But with most other government-run spaces like libraries and community centers still closed this week to prevent the spread of coronavirus, the Salvation Army and other nonprofit groups were shouldering a big load of the responsibility for ensuring people stay cool and hydrated amid extreme heat warnings for some parts of the southwestern U.S.
At a dozen of their sites in metro Phoenix, Salvation Army staff and volunteers Thursday asked people to wear masks, clean their hands with the alcohol-based sanitizer gel provided and stay at least 6 feet (2 meters) away from others as a precaution amid the virus outbreak.
”There are still few places where our homeless can go," Salvation Army Major David Yardley said at the group's downtown center. “Here, they can get some water, get out of the heat."
Phoenix malls and some restaurants are just starting to reopen after being closed for more than two months for social distancing to stop the virus from spreading. Some of the city's most popular cooling center sites remain closed, including the large Burton Barr Public Library in central Phoenix.
While homeless people comprise the bulk of those using the cooling stations, Yardley said they are open to everyone. He said he worried about elderly people who may turn off their air conditioning to save money or who don't have the cash to fix broken units.
“Everyone needs to check on their seniors,” he said.