State deal­ing with plan for virus and hur­ri­canes

Lead­ers work­ing on how to deal with both at same time

Orlando Sentinel - - Local & State - By Steven Le­mon­gello

What hap­pens when a hur­ricane strikes amid a coro­n­avirus out­break?

Florid­i­ans have been shel­ter­ing at home since March, but they’ve at least had power and a roof over their heads. The stan­dard pro­ce­dure in hur­ri­canes – peo­ple seek­ing safe haven at crowded shelters if their home is in a flood zone or with­out power

– could be cat­a­strophic with the pan­demic still in ef­fect.

Florida lead­ers are work­ing on what to do if and when the dou­ble whammy ap­proaches, with the be­gin­ning of what is pre­dicted to be a busy hur­ricane sea­son is less than a month away.

“We don’t know how the virus is go­ing to re­act as we move into these var­i­ous stages,” Gov. Ron De­San­tis said at a news con­fer­ence in Sara­sota on Tues­day. “We don’t know what it’s go­ing to look like a month from now, [or] three months from now, but we have to as­sume that it’s go­ing to be with us in some ca­pac­ity.”

Florida has been struck by sev­eral ma­jor hur­ri­canes over the past few years, from Irma in 2017 to Michael in 2018, not to men­tion close calls such as Matthew in 2016 and Do­rian in 2019.

For 2020, Ac­cuWeather me­te­o­rol­o­gists pre­dict it will be an above-av­er­age year with 14 to 18 trop­i­cal storms and seven to nine hur­ri­canes, with about two to four of them be­com­ing ma­jor hur­ri­canes with max­i­mum sus­tained wind speeds of more than 130 mph.

The usual plan is to open shelters for peo­ple seek­ing refuge from the storm and for peo­ple with­out elec­tric­ity in the af­ter­math. But De­San­tis warned that the sta­tus quo was dan­ger­ous in a pan­demic.

“The one thing that I think we’ve learned is this virus re­ally thrives and trans­mits when you have close sus­tained con­tact with peo­ple in­side an en­closed en­vi­ron­ment,” De­San­tis said.

“So as you’re look­ing at shel­ter­ing for hur­ri­canes, you’ve got to keep that in mind,” De­San­tis said. “And if you pile peo­ple into a place, un­der nor­mal cir­cum­stances, that may be fine. But that

would po­ten­tially al­low the virus to re­ally spread if some­body is in fact in­fected.”

Emer­gency Man­age­ment Di­rec­tor Jared Moskowitz said he’s been work­ing with the Fed­eral Emer­gency Man­age­ment Agency on hur­ricane prepa­ra­tion.

One of the is­sues be­ing dis­cussed was do­ing more “non­con­gre­gate” shel­ter­ing, which would be in places with in­di­vid­ual rooms like ho­tels and mo­tels, in­stead of “mass-con­gre­gate” shel­ter­ing at places such as gyms and other large rooms with dozens of cots.

“What are the pro­to­cols we’re go­ing to put in place?” Moskowitz said. “Are we go­ing to have COVID-only shelters? How are we go­ing to do evac­u­a­tions? How are we go­ing to limit evac­u­a­tions?”

Moskowitz gave one po­ten­tial so­lu­tion: Is­su­ing stay-in-place or­ders for peo­ple who live in fa­cil­i­ties “built to a cer­tain hur­ricane code based on the hur­ricane that is ap­proach­ing,” he said. “And so all of these op­tions are on the ta­ble.”

He also said that one of the lessons learned from the out­break is to make sure that the state has ad­e­quate sup­plies. So Florida al­ready is cre­at­ing a stock­pile for hur­ricane sea­son, he said.

“So we are buy­ing up PPE [Per­sonal Pro­tec­tive Equip­ment] and putting it in re­serve in our ware­house to make sure that we have 10 mil­lion masks on hand as we get into hur­ricane sea­son,” Moskowitz said. “Just the other day we signed a long-term deal with Honey­well in which we’re go­ing to get N95 masks right from the man­u­fac­turer. We’ll be get­ting 12 mil­lion of those over the next year.”

In ad­di­tion to talk­ing about the lat­est test­ing num­bers and plans for open­ing up new mo­bile test­ing sites for nurs­ing homes, De­San­tis on Tues­day also had some po­ten­tially good news for fans of cock­tails-to-go.

The part of his ini­tial stay-ath­ome order that al­lowed restau­rant pa­trons to pick up al­co­holic drinks or have them de­liv­ered as part of their food or­ders, he said, has been “pretty pop­u­lar.”

“We’re prob­a­bly go­ing to keep that go­ing,” he said. “Maybe we’ll have the legislatur­e change the law on that.”

SAUL LOEB/AFP/GETTY

Hun­dreds gather in 2017 at an emer­gency shel­ter in Mi­ami. Lead­ers are plan­ning for when hur­ricane sea­son hits dur­ing the coro­n­avirus.

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