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State of California—Health and Human Services Agency
California Department of Public Health

July 18, 2023

Local Health Departments

Cooling Centers Guidance


​Overview ​

Extreme heat is a major public health concern in California. Climate change is leading to higher temperatures, more often, and of longer duration. Exposure to extreme heat can cause a variety of health problems, including heat exhaustion, heat stroke, and death. Cooling centers (a cool site or air-conditioned facility designed to provide relief and protection from heat) are used by many communities to protect health and mitigate heat impacts during heat events, especially for high-risk populations that are disproportionally affected by extreme heat. However, without proper care and guidance, the risk of the spread of respiratory diseases among both visitors and staff, including the transmission of COVID-19, increases as people congregate. This document provides general guidance for Local Health Jurisdictions to support a safe, clean environment for visitors and staff at cooling centers.

In workplaces, employers and employees are subject to either the Cal/OSHA COVID Non-Emergency Regulations or the Cal/OSHA Aerosol Transmissible Diseases (ATD) PDF Standard and should consult those regulations for additional applicable requirements. In certain healthcare situations or settings and other covered facilities, services and operations, surgical masks (or higher filtration masks) are required. Local health jurisdictions and other entities may continue to have requirements in specific settings based on local circumstances, including in certain higher-risk settings, or during certain situations that may necessitate mask requirements (for example, during active outbreaks in high-risk settings).​

Cooling Centers:

Cooling centers can be established in accessible air-conditioned buildings that are open to the public, such as a library, community center, town hall, or senior center. Other places the public can go to alleviate the heat include movie theaters and retail facilities. The following are common characteristics for community cooling centers:    

  • Air-conditioned
  • Accessible to all members of public
  • Compliant with the American Disabilities Act
  • Have access to restrooms and water
  • Have available seating for all guests
  • Widely advertised throughout the community
  • Close to public transportation routes​

When considering opening a cooling center, it is important to take into consideration the location(s) of particularly high-risk populations and the ability of the community to access cooling centers.​

General Considerations for Cooling Centers:

  • Provide signage at the facility indicating that it is operating as a cooling center.
  • Provide information, instructions, or signage, at the cooling center in multiple languages (including graphics) in commonly used areas.
  • Distribute cooling center locations and hours widely to the public through various media and in multiple languages.
  • Ensure that cooling centers are open and available to all population groups, including unhoused individuals, LGBTQ+ community and immigrants.
    • Immigration documentation should never be requested or discussed in connection with cooling center services, and it should be made clear that all are welcome.
  • Identify local resources and subject matter experts to train cooling center staff to identify and address any behavioral health needs that may arise in the cooling center.
  • Train cooling center staff on safety and security procedures specific to the location being used as a cooling center.
  • For more extreme heat events—particularly those during which temperatures remain elevated overnight—consider extended cooling center hours.
  • Train cooling center staff to recognize the signs and symptoms of heat-related illness.
  • Work with transit agencies to provide transportation to cooling centers for high-risk populations.
  • Increase the attractiveness of cooling centers by providing educational and entertainment programming (research indicates that barriers to accessing cooling centers include people worrying that they will have nothing to do).
  • If feasible with the space available, provide a separate area for families with children.​

​Individual Control Measures and Screening for Communicable Diseases:

​Cooling centers can bring together large groups of people.  Although physical distancing and capacity limits are no longer required by COVID-19 protocols, the following precautions should be in place to reduce the risk of communicable disease transmission among visitors and staff.  

Note: The early signs of heat stress, such as headache, fatigue, and elevated body temperature, are similar to symptoms of many communicable diseases. Elevated body temperature due to heat stress may take up to 30 minutes to normalize in a cool environment. If body temperature does not normalize, additional assessment may be needed and may require immediate medical attention.​

  • Implement symptom self-screening for all visitors and staff, including any volunteers, vendors, contractors, or other individuals entering cooling centers.
  • If possible, provide separate rooms or spaces within cooling centers in which symptomatic visitors can be separated from others.  Offer rapid COVID-19 testing if the resources are available.
  • Have a sufficient supply of personal protective equipment, such as recommended N95s, and hand sanitizer available for public use. Refer to the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) When and Why to Wear a Mask​ for more informatio​​n on masks with the best fit and filtration.
  • Encourage staff to stay up to date with COVID-19 vaccines and other respiratory viruses, when eligible. More information about vaccines, including how they work, variants, boosters and vaccine records can be found on the Vaccines page.
  • Screen all staff for symptoms of illness at the beginning of their shift. Staff or volunteers who are sick or exhibiting symptoms of should stay home and get tested. Follow the ​CDPH Respiratory Viruses page​​​.​


​​​Cleaning Protocols:​

  • ​Keep bathrooms and other sinks consistently stocked with handwashing supplies, including soap and hand drying materials.
  • Provide alcohol-based hand sanitizers that contain at least 60% alcohol at key points within the facility, including entrances/exits and other common areas.
  • Follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for Cleaning and Disinfecting Your Facility guidance.
  • Post signs at entrances and in strategic places providing instructions on hand hygiene, respiratory hygiene, cough etiquette, and face coverings if symptomatic.

​Access and Functional Needs Consideration

Facilities designated as cooling centers should comply with the requirements established under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Facilities that do not comply with the ADA, such as older school buildings and religious establishments, can often be made compliant or useable by obtaining portable units to increase accessibility (e.g. ADA-compliant porta potties, ramps, etc.). Many accessible resources can be located using the OAFN California Access and Functional Needs Web Map.​

​Cooling Center Consideration for Pets:

Heat stroke in pets is caused by hyperthermia (an abnormal elevation in body temperature) and the body's inability to cool itself down. Heat stroke is a life-threatening emergency and can lead to organ damage or death if not treated quickly. Cooling centers that allow for pets are encouraged to follow the guidelines below. Owners should seek immediate veterinary care if their pet is displaying signs of heat stroke (abnormal breathing, weakness, pale/sticky gums, collapse, vomiting, or diarrhea).  

  • Consider separate designated areas for guests with pets and guests without pets. In the pet designated area, cats should be kept further away from dogs to reduce stress.
  • The designated area for guests with pets should have sufficient separation from the area for guests without pets to maintain the safety of persons with pet allergies.
  • Cooling center staff should be aware that an animal's vaccination status may be unknown. Counties are reminded to report any dog or cat bites to local animal control. If available, counties may consider providing information about local low-cost or free veterinary care services to guests.
  • Food, food dishes, and water dishes must be provided by owner. Cooling centers should allow access to water for owners to fill water dishes.
  • All dogs must be on a leash (retractable leashes are not recommended) or in crates or carriers.
  • Cats should be in a suitable crate. At a minimum, they must be secured with a harness and leash.
  • Waste clean-up supplies (litter, litter box, poop bags) must be provided by owner. Cooling centers should also be prepared for emergency waste clean-up by having paper towels, disinfectant wipes, hand sanitizer, disposable gloves, garage bags, and separate pet waste garbage cans available.
  • Other animals (rabbits, birds, etc.) must be contained in suitable crate.
  • Owners must maintain possession of their animal(s) at all times.
  • A guest may not bring more pets than they are reasonably able to control.​​

National Weather Service Heatrisk Prototype Tool:

To help determine when to open a cooling center and take other actions to protect from heat illness, the National Weather Service (NWS) HeatRisk Prototype tool provides a forecast of the potential level of risk for heat related impacts to occur over each day (24-hour period) in the local area. That level of risk is illustrated by a color/number along with identifying the groups potentially most at risk at that level. Each HeatRisk level is also accompanied by recommendations for heat protection and can serve as a useful tool for planning for upcoming heat and its associated potential risk. Based on the NWS high resolution national gridded forecast database, a daily HeatRisk value is calculated for each location from the current date throug​h seven days in the future.

The HeatRisk Prototype serves as another NWS tool that can be used to protect lives and property from the potential risks of excessive heat, being especially useful for those who are more easily affected by heat or those who provide support to those communities of heat-vulnerable individuals. Weather extremes generally affect historically underserved vulnerable communities the most, and the HeatRisk prototype service ensures that communities have the right information at the right time to be better prepared for upcoming heat events. HeatRisk has been available in the Western United States since 2014 and is currently being used to influence the issuance of the NWS's official heat watches, advisories, and warnings across much of the western United States in an experimental capacity. HeatRisk is planned to be expanded nationally later in 2023.​