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Clay County officials view storm shelters as a last resort

This year, officials have an added concern: the spread of coronavirus

GREEN COVE SPRINGS, Fla. – Clay County emergency management officials are watching to see if shelters will need to be opened this weekend.

The county is required to open them when facing tropical storm conditions.

If the shelters open, Director of Emergency Management John Ward said they will be a group setting and they should be a last resort. While health and county officials said they are taking extra steps to social distance and sanitize inside, sheltering with a large group could increase your chance of being exposed to COVID-19.

RELATED: Tropical Storm Isaias bringing heavy rain & winds to Dominican Republic

Potential heavy rainfall in Northeast Florida means the county is keeping a closer eye on Black Creek, which has historically flooded during severe storms.

Regardless of the impacts from Isaias, Clay County emergency management officials have been preparing for the Atlantic hurricane season for months.

Ward said his team has expanded the distance requirement between people in shelters. For general population shelters, distance has increased from 20 square feet apart now to 120 square feet. Shelters for those with special needs have increased from 60 square feet apart to 160 square feet.

“It’s really trying to enforce that physical distancing,” Ward said. “Because you’re coming into a congregate setting, you know even with masks and physical distancing the chances go up of contracting Covid when you start bringing in a lot of people into a certain area.”

RELATED: Florida reports 3rd straight record day for COVID-19 deaths

For the first time, this year shelter participants will have to bring their own bedding, like sheets, sleep bags and pillows. The county used to provide military cots, but won't this year to avoid multiple people touching and moving them.

Also this year, county and health officials will conduct temperature screenings, and everyone will have to wear a mask inside. There will be a separate area far away from others for anyone who may be showing symptoms of an upper respiratory illness.

There has always been a push for people to know their evacuation zones. This year, emergency management also wants people to be aware that they may want to shelter in place. Instead of “know your zone,” emergency management officials want people to “know your code,” meaning is your house built to safety code?

To speed up insurance claims, Florida Chief Financial Officer and State Fire Marshal Jimmy Patronis encourages homeowners to take video of the inside and outside of their house before the storm.

“The nice thing about it — you’ll have a very transparent before-and-after set of video documents that can be shared with the insurance company to make your claim cut and dry,” Patronis said.


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