Weathering the Storm During COVID-19

By Amanda Sangster - June 08, 2020

We are living in times of uncertainty. With a pandemic underway and frequently changing safety guidelines, times are more confusing than ever. For many living in coastal areas, there is doubt of another form on the horizon – the cone of uncertainty that indicates the trajectory of an impending tropical storm or hurricane.

It is now hurricane season, and the most activity is expected between mid-August and mid-October. This means we are facing the possibility of living within simultaneous disasters. Powerful winds, flooding and storm surges mixed with the spread of the coronavirus could result in one of the worst hurricane seasons of the last decade. Preparing for storm season will be different this year and our ability to stay safe will be tested.

As COVID-19 has taught us, our success depends on taking deliberate, proactive steps in responding to these events and how well we are prepared. There are new meanings for sheltering in place, staying safe in a crowd and hygienic practices – things that we depend upon most during hurricane evacuations.

As with past seasons, having a hurricane plan in place is the best way to ensure safety for you and your loved ones. Establishing an evacuation plan, maintaining a supply kit and practicing good hygiene are important factors. Here are some preparation tips created with COVID-19 in mind.

Evacuation

Understanding when and how to evacuate can predict your ability to survive any hurricane season. Failure to evacuate when instructed by local authorities can result in a strain on emergency services as they try to find and help you. If you evacuate too soon, you can block residents living in danger zones from accessing safer grounds. It’s important to know your evacuation zone, your flood zone and the location of your local shelter.

Before COVID-19, your family may have depended upon emergency shelters for evacuation. However, social distancing guidelines and access to proper hygiene can make using this option harder to choose this year. To minimize transmission of the virus and the strain on community resources, emergency officials encourage people to evacuate with friends or family before considering a shelter.

Lack of social distancing, extended time around an infected person and spaces without proper air ventilation can result in a higher risk of transmission of COVID-19. These factors can make evacuation shelters appear less desirable. However, this doesn’t mean you should avoid your community storm shelters entirely.

In planning for this year’s dual disasters, state and local officials have taken these safety issues into account. If faced with the possibility of a storm surge, flooding or loss of power to your home, then an emergency shelter will still be your best option. Upon entering a shelter, you should expect to be screened, required to maintain social distancing and to wear personal protective equipment, if available.

If you or a family member are immunocompromised or have a medical condition or disability that could be exacerbated in a general population shelter, you should plan to evacuate to a special needs shelter, which requires pre-registration.

Special needs shelters are designed to provide safety for people whose medical condition may require the use of electrical equipment, oxygen and/or dialysis. Shelter staff also have resources to treat individuals with physical, cognitive or medical conditions who may require medical assistance. However, these shelters should not be treated as emergency medical services.

Disaster Supply Kits

Like past hurricane seasons, people should plan to stock up on essentials and build a disaster supply kit to last at least seven days. This includes regular items like non-perishable food, a gallon of water per person per day, prescription medicines, radio, flashlight, first-aid kit, pet food and other vital supplies. A complete checklist recommended by the Florida Division of Emergency Management can be found here.

Enduring the season with COVID-19 will require additional supplies like extra soap, disinfecting wipes, hand sanitizer (containing at least 60% alcohol) and personal protective equipment. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recommends two masks or face coverings per family member (everyone ages 2 and above). If you need to evacuate to a shelter or another safe space, like a friend or family member’s home, these items will be essential for minimizing the spread of infection.

In an effort to keep entire communities safe, FEMA also encourages hurricane preppers to only buy what they need. Because of the current economic situation and the inability of immunocompromised people to shop frequently, supplies may be more difficult for others to buy or afford. To keep us all safe, buy only what you need and leave the rest for your neighbors.

Hygiene

When personal protective equipment is in short supply, obtaining enough to keep your family safe through six months of hurricane season may feel hopeless. However, stockpiling gloves and sanitizer isn’t the only way to ensure personal hygiene and minimize the risk of infection. Experts still agree that the best ways to stay healthy during COVID-19, even during a hurricane, are handwashing and social distancing.

To reduce the greatest number of germs, you should wash your hands with soap and water for a minimum of 20 seconds. While sanitizers are a great alternative, they do not eliminate all types of germs. To maximize the efficacy of handwashing, learn about these common mistakes you might be making.

Sharing items like eating utensils, drinking cups, bottles of water or toothbrushes is never a good idea. While the Centers for Disease Control changed their guidelines in early May to note that the virus “does not spread easily” by touching shared surfaces, there are other infectious risks of touching unclean surfaces that have been frequently used by others or contaminated by storm water. You and your family can learn how to properly clean and disinfect most other surfaces using soap and homemade cleaning solutions by reading these tips.

Additional hygiene tips include using only clean water when bathing, using clean towels, sleeping on clean unsoiled bedding and keeping wounds and cuts bandaged.

 

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