State dealing with plan for virus and hurricanes
Leaders working on how to deal with both at same time
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.”
Hundreds gather in 2017 at an emergency shelter in Miami. Leaders are planning for when hurricane season hits during the coronavirus.