As if hurricane season isn’t daunting enough for Floridians, this year’s season comes with an additional complication: COVID-19 still remains a persistent threat. A recent Tampa Bay Times report points out that preparing for a hurricane strike during a deadly pandemic will be challenging for both families and communities. COVID-19 will affect how residents will be able to evacuate and shelter as well as how the aftermath will be dealt with. We also cannot forget about the current economic crisis, which undoubtedly will impact both of these threats that we are trying to protect ourselves against.
In the month of May, more than two million unemployment claims were filed in Florida. How many families will be adequately prepared with resources or a place to shelter and recover if a major storm hits? While emergency officials will take extra precautions to protect hurricane shelters from the coronavirus, the main priority will be saving Floridians from the storm, as the immediate threats during a hurricane are flooding and possible drowning.
As the Atlantic storm season officially starts on Monday, the Tampa Bay Times shared seven things Floridians should be aware of this hurricane season:
- Have a plan. Then, have a reliable backup plan. Plan to hunker down, but also make a plan to stay with friends or relatives if you realize that your plan to stay home is no longer feasible or safe when the time comes. Make another plan to stay in a motel room on safe ground, and know the locations of nearby shelters. Know ahead of time what all of your possible options will be because you never know which plan will become null and void due to a possible coronavirus outbreak. The pandemic may end up limiting space in shelters, motels, or even make staying at a friend’s or relative’s no longer a viable option.
- Plan to stay home as long as it remains a safe option. Those at greatest risk from water and wind are those that live in manufactured housing and in flood zones. If you happen to be on higher ground and your home is sturdy and expected to withstand one category above the strength of the storm that’s coming, strongly consider staying put and save the shelter space for those who will really be needing it. Going to a shelter will increase your family’s chances of being exposed to COVID-19. If you happen to be an asymptomatic carrier, you could be putting other evacuees at risk. If you live in a non-evacuation zone, your family will remain safest at home, sheltering in place.
- Invite family members or a group of friends to ride out the storm at your home if you have the extra room and live in a non-evacuation zone. Be sure to invite those who have been isolating and are in good health. Have a plan with friends or family members that live in other parts of the state and form an alliance with them – if the storm is expected to hit you, you can shelter with them. If it is expected to hit them, they can shelter with you at your home.
- Every hurricane kit should be stocked with pandemic necessities going forward. Hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes, two cloth masks per person. Keep trying to buy these items throughout the summer and fall, even though they have been hard to come by. If you have to evacuate, you will most likely be required to wear a mask at a shelter. For a list of supplies that should be kept on hand that are recommended by FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security, visit: ready.gov.
- If you must evacuate to a hurricane shelter, be aware that they will be especially vulnerable to the coronavirus. This virus can be spread through airborne droplets and remain viable on hard surfaces. Emergency officials recognize this and are coming up with strategies to prevent outbreaks. Those entering shelters will most likely be screened for the virus by having their temperature taken and they will be asked a series of questions. Those that are symptomatic may be relocated to another shelter or to a specific designated area within the shelter where they can isolate from other evacuees most effectively. Shelters will be cleaned and sterilized more frequently as a preventative method of keeping everyone safe. Each shelter will need to be supplied safety gear. However, the more time an evacuee has to spend in a shelter, the greater the health risk.
- Alternative shelters are on the horizon. Emergency officials are seeking new ways to house people that will provide more square footage for limited evacuation, such as hotel/motel rooms, vacant dorms, community colleges, ice rinks, and multi-purpose facilities. However, these options also require additional staff and resources to maintain them.
- Recovery will be more difficult. While a direct strike is devastating in any year, this year will hit those who are already unemployed even harder. Families that may already be down one income due to the pandemic may lose the other due to a hurricane. Municipalities that have lost sales tax revenue will also struggle. Everyone will be more reliant on the help from FEMA and other government aid.
NextHome SunRaye wishes our fellow Floridians continued good health during these uncertain times. We would like to remind everyone to get prepared and stay vigilant this hurricane season. We are in this together!