The days of a refreshing plunge in a public pool or a cold beer at a baseball game won’t be happening anytime soon in New York City. But while many of the summer pastimes New Yorkers rely on to stay cool are suddenly risky in the midst of a pandemic, that won’t stop the sweltering summer heat.
Last July was the tenth-hottest recorded in the history of New York City, and temperatures have already climbed into the 90s this June. To brace for another scorching summer, the city aims to set up “non-traditional cooling centers” at auditoriums, sports venues, and other spacious sites across the boroughs in areas hit hardest by COVID-19. NYC Parks will also create outdoor “misting oases” along with spray showers, and after weeks of delays the city’s 14-miles of public beaches will finally open for swimming on July 1.
“This summer will be unlike any other in New York City history, and we’re focused on safety first,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio. “From spray showers to misters to fire hydrants, we’re getting creative with how our families can stay cool during periods of extreme heat.”
During heat advisories, DEP and the Fire Department will install spray caps on 320 hydrants in communities at greatest risk determined by the NYC Heat Vulnerability Index (HVI), developed by the NYC Department of Health and Columbia University. The Parks Department will also install up to 250 “new outdoor cooling elements” in those same areas during scorching weather. Some open streets will be transformed into “cool streets” with open fire hydrants; the city will announce specific streets in the coming days.
The city has launched a $55 million effort to provide air conditioners to low-income seniors in anticipation of more New Yorkers staying indoors than ever before this summer. Officials aim to dole out more than 74,000 air conditioners. So far, the city has reached out to nearly 330,000 eligible seniors, with more than 37,000 opted-in to receive an air conditioner, including 23,200 seniors in private homes and 14,000 in NYCHA buildings.
“Hot weather can kill and these cooling initiatives are critical to keeping people safe through the summer,” Health Commissioner Dr. Oxiris Barbot said in a statement.
The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority is kicking in $20 million toward the air conditioner initiative with the rest coming from city coffers.
New York City will also help subsidize the utility bills of 450,000 New Yorkers during the summer months, which are usually 20 to 30 percent higher due to air conditioning usage, the mayor said. De Blasio is also pushing the New York State Public Service Commission, which helps New Yorkers pay their summer utility bills, to double its contributions; that would translate to roughly $160 per household going toward utilities.
“For many low-income people, particularly people who have lost their paycheck, this could be a lot of what helps them get through the summer safely,” de Blasio said of the subsidies. “It’s what New Yorkers need to stay safe and cool during a challenging summer.”