Area health officials on Monday issued the first Code Red air quality alert in nearly two years, as a vicious one-two punch of heat and humidity -- expected to last much of the week -- pummeled the region.

A Code Red alert, which officials issued from now through Wednesday, indicates air quality is unhealthy for everyone and people should keep outdoor activity to a minimum, according to the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.

Code Reds, while common during the smoggy summer afternoons of the late 1990s and early 2000s, have become infrequent lately. Health officials issued no code red alerts in 2009 and two the summer before.

"The heat's not killer I guess, at least not yet. But it's not fun," said Ryan Hopker, 33, a Chicago resident in town for the long weekend to visit his brother.

The Hopkers were downtown Monday afternoon, where temperatures hit 98 degrees. They were also among the hundreds of thousands who packed the District on Sunday night for the Fourth of July fireworks despite the 90-degree temperatures that lingered for much of the evening.


Staying cool   Follow these hot-weather health tips: »  Crank up the AC: Air conditioning is the top protecton against heat-related death and illness. To save money head for local malls, libraries or museums. »  Drink up: Increase your fluid intake, regardless of whether you're outside or active. Don't wait until you're thirsty to drink and try to finish two to four glasses of cool fluids each hour. And no booze. »  Dress to sweat less: Wear lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing -- as little of it as possible. »  Avoid sunburn: Sunburn limits your body's ability to cool itself and causes a loss of fluids. So stay out of the sun as much as possible and wear protective suncreen. »  Eat right: Stay away from hot foods or heavy meals and try to replace those minerals lost when you sweat, such as salt. Just don't overdo it -- talk to your doctor first if you're on a low-salt diet. Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention  

The streets were far less crowded Monday as visitors did their best to stay indoors and out of the heat, which forecasters say will hit 102 degrees Tuesday and Wednesday.


"I'm not a fan of this heat, so we're bouncing from museum to museum or anyplace else that's air conditioned," said David Reble, 40, a native of Ottawa in D.C. for business.

Reble and his wife, 37-year-old Malaka Hendela, were walking near McPherson Square on Monday, and said they had avoided the crowds and the heat on the National Mall the night before.

"We ducked off the Mall before the fireworks because it was just so hot and there were so many people," Hendela said.

Summer 2010 is shaping up to be brutal. Local officials have recorded 10 heat-related deaths in D.C., Maryland and Virginia, topping or matching last year's seasonal totals.

Health officials advise residents to stay indoors and to avoid any strenuous exercise and work while the heat is on.

But some people had problems following that advice.

"Since my [air conditioning] broke, I'm outside trying to stay cool, which is ironic on a day like today," said Dan Sheridan, 37, who Monday afternoon was sitting in the shade of a tree near the White House.

Sheridan, a D.C. resident and native, had this advice for out-of-towners trying to beat the District's hundred-degree malaise:

"Go to the waterfront, have a couple cold drinks and jump in if you get too hot."