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Health officials urge caution in cold as 'Code Blue' alert season begins

Ave Strawder, of Columbia, walks into the breeze as she makes her way to work on a day with record-breaking cold in Baltimore.
Ave Strawder, of Columbia, walks into the breeze as she makes her way to work on a day with record-breaking cold in Baltimore. (Kim Hairston, Baltimore Sun)

After this week's blast of early winter cold, Baltimore health officials are urging residents to prepare for possibly dangerous cold ahead this winter.

City health officials will declare "Code Blue" emergencies if temperatures or wind chills drop to 13 degrees or colder, a level this week's cold nearly reached. There were 34 Code Blue alerts last winter, more than three times as many as each of the previous two winters.

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Four people died of hypothermia in the city last winter, compared with five and three in the previous two winters, according to city health officials.

When Code Blue alerts are issued, private homeless shelters are encouraged to expand their hours, and 60 additional beds are opened up at the city's 24-hour shelter on Fallsway. The Mayor's Office of Human Services and community groups sweep for vulnerable residents, particularly homeless people, to encourage them to seek shelter.

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Residents are encouraged to dress warmly, with multiple layers of loose-fitting clothing and hats, to stay hydrated and avoid drinking alcohol. Those with heart problems are urged to avoid strenuous activity in the cold, such as shoveling heavy snow.

"Last year was one of the coldest winters we have experienced in some time and we were kept quite busy working to protect city residents," Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said in a statement. "It is vitally important that our agencies work together to protect our citizens, especially those most vulnerable such as seniors and homeless, from the cold temperatures that could prove life threatening in the most serious cases."

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