RIVERSIDE, Calif. – When the summer heat takes its toll, cool centers come to the rescue. Riverside County has provided a free way for residents to beat the heat for almost two decades, but this has been the most challenging year yet.
"Normally, we have 60 sites throughout Riverside County operating as cool centers. This year, we have 15," said Olga Sanchez, Director of Riverside County's Community Action Partnership. She and her team serve some of the most vulnerable residents in the region.
"We help anywhere from 40 to 60 thousand people per year be able to have relief from heat, be able to turn off their air conditioning, and save on energy bills as well as be able to promote other community services," Sanchez said.
Due to Covid-19, tables and chairs are set up six feet apart, indicated by markings on the floor. Capacity has been cut by 40 to 50 percent in order to allow for proper social distancing.
"We’ve had to modify, update, policies and procedures that we’ve already had in place," Sanchez said.
All visitors must sign in and wear a face covering. They are then asked if they’ve had any symptoms such as cough, fever, or shortness of breath.
Then, they get their temperature taken and are given a bag. Inside is information on avoiding heat related illness along with other items such as sunscreen, hand sanitizer, and chapstick. They also get a snack, water, and a fan.
The temperature inside the room is set to 72 degrees and visitors can stay as long as they’d like. Most of the cool centers keep standard business hours.
"We activated all of our Cool Centers on June 1 and since then, we’ve had almost 7,500 visitors come through one of our doors and be able to escape the heat," Sanchez said.
That’s only about a third of what they typically see by this time. Still for residents who can’t afford a/c, it’s a welcoming sign that relief is near.