Madison’s libraries can serve as cooling centers as it heats up this weekend

MADISON, Wis. — With temperatures forecasted to be in the 90s this weekend, it’s important to know where you can get inside to cool off.

While neighboring cities such as Middleton set up designated cooling centers, Madison doesn’t. Instead, the city recommends residents cool off in public buildings or any of the city’s nine libraries.

The libraries opened just over a week ago after being closed because of COVID. But now they are all ready to welcome people back in.

Spokeswoman Tana Elias said the libraries often serve as safe spaces. In the winter, they’re used as warming centers.

“People come in when they’re out going for a walk or if they are homeless or don’t have a place to stay,” said Elias.

Now that Dane County’s public health mandate has expired, the libraries are better equipped to handle more people and allow them to stay for longer.

“We changed our policy to allow drink in the library so people can bring their water bottle in or fill their water bottle at the library or get water from library staff,” said Elias.

Doctors say when you don’t feel well in the heat, the first thing to do is get to a cool area such as a library.

“Get into a shady spot or get into a place with air conditioning. Try and hydrate as much as (you) can with water or an electrolyte filled drink like any sport drink out there,” said Dr. John Aguilar, an emergency room doctor at SSM Health St. Mary’s hospital.

He said there’s a spectrum of heat illnesses. The first symptoms are heat cramps. That can happen when people overexert themselves in warm weather.

“As it gets worse you can have something called heat exhaustion where you develop more symptoms. Maybe you develop a headache, some nausea or vomiting. This can present in various ways,” said Aguilar.

Aguilar said if you can’t keep food or water down, it’s time to get checked out by a doctor because the next stage is heat stoke.

“Heat stroke is when the body is no longer able to compensate for that change in temperature and what we call their core temperature, their body temperature has risen to a point where their body can no longer handle it,” he said.

This is especially dangerous for young kids and the elderly, but Aguilar said heat stroke can be devastating for people at any age. The most common cases in the ER are in teenagers to 30-year-olds.

“Patients can become really sick, this can be a serious disease process. And patients can die. So that’s why it’s important to take all the preventative measures and know the signs and symptoms to when you might need to cool down,” said Aguilar.

It also doesn’t have to be too hot outside for heat stroke to set in. Aguilar said it can happen at any temperature if someone is dehydrated.

Elias said library employees look out for these symptoms.

“At our central library we have security monitors whose job it is to really walk around the building and make sure everyone is doing well and ok, but all of our staff have some training. And obviously any of our staff if they see a situation would call an ambulance or would call 9-1-1,” said Elias.