The Columbia/Boone County Public Health and Human Services Department has cooling centers open to the general public as an impending heat wave is coming to Missouri.

Residents will notice differences in how the cooling centers operate due to the rise in COVID-19 numbers.

The cooling centers have a limited amount of space because of new guidelines, District II Commissioner Janet Thompson, said.

“We have a certain amount of space because we also have social-distancing requirements and mask requirements for people to be inside,” Thompson said. “So, there is a certain amount of space here in the government center that’s available for folks to come in and try to cool off.”

Erika Coffman, the recreation services manager at the Activity and Recreation Center, another cooling center in Columbia, said the center had to limit seating areas because of the virus.

“Space had to be limited; we have less benches in the facility,” Coffman said. “We don’t have a lot of tables and chairs up.”

On the Health Department website, amenities inside cooling centers still can be used, such as drinking fountains, waiting areas or restrooms.

Thompson said operating cooling centers will become harder to handle in the future.

“It’s going to be more of a challenge, I think, as we move forward to take care of those needs,” Thompson said. “There is a limited amount of space, as I said, so that’s the question of how people can social distance and do the business that they’ve come here to do.”

Columbia officials said masks are required to enter the cooling centers, as Columbia’s mask ordinance went into effect last week.

According to earlier KOMU reporting, doctors said it is safe to wear masks in the heat.

The cooling centers open are the ARC, the Armory Sports and Community Center, the Roger B. Wilson Boone County Government Center, the Health Department, The Salvation Army and The Salvation Army Harbor House.

Columbia’s cooling centers are open during their normal business hours.

More information can be found on the Health Department website.

For more COVID-19 related news, see our section dedicated to COVID-19 updates.