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Why preparing for hurricane season is different this year

As COVID spreads, FEMA has rolled out new preparedness strategies

Evacuees fill up cots at the George Brown Convention Center, which has been turned into a shelter run by the American Red Cross to house victims of the high water from Hurricane Harvey (Erich Schlegel/Getty Images).
Evacuees fill up cots at the George Brown Convention Center, which has been turned into a shelter run by the American Red Cross to house victims of the high water from Hurricane Harvey (Erich Schlegel/Getty Images). (Getty Images)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Preparing for the hurricane season requires special considerations this year, especially when it comes to supplies and, more importantly, your evacuation plans. This season, it’s best to use a shelter only as a last resort because of the health risks associated with coronavirus.

Hurricane preparation in a pandemic requires special precautions.

Fortunately, none of the three tropical storms that have reached the states during this hyperactive hurricane season have required mass evacuations. But as the peak of the season approaches over the next couple months, stronger hurricanes might force cities to order major evacuations.

With Duval County reaching 2,233 confirmed cases of COVID-19 on June 18, it’s important to consider your options now in case you’re forced to leave your home behind. Staying with friends and family or at large public shelters could be problematic.

Hurricane evacuation shelters might place you at a higher risk of catching the virus, and some people might not want to shelter at relatives’ homes out of concern that they could spread the virus to a larger group.

City evacuation centers might set aside additional personal space to allow for physical distancing or designate separate spaces for individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19.

Plan ahead to see if you need to evacuate

Not every household needs to evacuate. Remember to hide from the wind and run from the water. If you live near the river or coast, get away from the surge. Check your evacuation map and know the storm threat levels for which you would want to pack up. In these situations hotels may be a less risky option to distance yourself.

Of course, homes on higher ground are ideal for sheltering in place, assuming the buildings are structurally sound and far enough away from the threat of falling trees and tree limbs.

FEMA has updated its hurricane guide to include material on staying safe in the pandemic — including advice about social distancing, wearing cloth face coverings and following recommended cleaning practices:

  • If you must go to a community shelter, remember to follow the latest guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for protecting yourself and family from COVID-19;
  • Be prepared to take cleaning items with you, like soap, hand sanitizer, disinfecting wipes, or general household cleaning supplies to disinfect surfaces you may need to touch regularly;
  • Keep at least six feet between you and persons who are not part of your immediate family while at the shelter [by avoiding crowds or gathering in groups] as much as possible.

Anyone age 2 or older should use a cloth face covering while at these facilities. And remember, medical experts do not recommend children under 2 wear masks because they are at a greater suffocation risk.


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