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This is what hurricane disaster sheltering could look like in a pandemic

CDC releases guidance protocols

People take shelter at the George R. Brown Convention Center after flood waters from Hurricane Harvey inundated the city on Aug. 29, 2017 in Houston.
People take shelter at the George R. Brown Convention Center after flood waters from Hurricane Harvey inundated the city on Aug. 29, 2017 in Houston. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

It’s here: Hurricane season seems to have snuck up on us. It’s not surprising, seeing as how we’ve been consumed by the coronavirus pandemic.

Considering that, it’s not hard to wonder how the pandemic might affect how we handle a hurricane — especially one that could wreak havoc like Harvey or Irma did just three years ago.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests giving yourself more time than usual to prepare your emergency food, water and medicine supplies.

  • You’ll want to pay attention ahead of time to local guidance about updated plans for evacuations and shelters, as well as potential shelters for your pets.
  • Prepare a “go kit.” Be sure you add items that will help protect you and others from COVID-19.

But should you find yourself in a situation in which a disaster shelter is your only option, what will the protocols be amid the coronavirus pandemic?

While the CDC is encouraging the prioritization of hotels or dormitories and small shelters over the larger ones, it recognizes that access to safe shelter from disasters is critical, even during the spread of COVID-19.

If you should need to go to a shelter during hurricane, the CDC has released guidance protocols for how things should be handled during the pandemic. Though it made the following points, it also recommended shelter managers look to state and local officials for area-specific information.

Here’s what you can expect inside a shelter:

  • Everyone entering the shelter and in food distribution areas will have their temperatures monitored.
  • Residents will be monitored daily for symptoms of COVID-19 and other illnesses.
  • Staff and residents should wear a cloth face covering at all times, aside from when they are eating or showering. It should be noted that, face coverings will not need to be placed on babies or children younger than 2 years of age. In addition, anyone who has trouble breathing, is unconscious, incapacitated or unable to remove the covering without assistance will not need to wear one.
  • Separate areas should be provided to isolate people with symptoms of COVID-19. This should include restrooms.
  • If COVID-19 testing is available, all residents, volunteers and shelter staff should be tested.

The CDC states that the large shelters should be demobilized as soon as possible after the emergency phase, and residents should then be relocated to the smaller shelters for better social distancing.

It has also recognized that all residents in a shelter may have been exposed to the coronavirus, so after leaving, everyone should self-quarantine in accordance with state and local recommendations.

Because information about the transmission and severity of COVID-19 is evolving, the CDC will monitor its guidelines and whether they need to be updated as new information is made available.

Click here to check the most recent guidelines from the CDC, and click or swipe here for guidelines from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.


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