Under normal circumstances, planning for hurricane season can be stressful with home preparations and making sure supplies are plentiful. But this year, the COVID-19 pandemic is making storm preparedness even more challenging. Nonetheless, proper planning and taking care of supply needs and sheltering plans early will reduce hurricane season stress significantly, experts say.
Today, June 1st, is the official start of the 2020 hurricane season, and all U.S. forecasting models expect a busier-than-average season. Every hurricane kit should now be stocked with pandemic necessities, experts agree. That includes hand sanitizers, disinfectant wipes and at least two cloth masks per person — this is especially important if you and your family live in evacuation zones and must relocate to designated public shelters to ride out a hurricane. (scroll down for hurricane supplies infographic ).
“People with medical needs should anticipate losing power, which usually happens with hurricanes,” says John Braden. M.D., Baptist Health South Florida’s medical director for emergency preparedness. “If you have electrically dependent equipment, such as oxygen concentrators, monitors, CPAP machines for sleeping or other equipment, you need to find evacuation centers that are going to be able to support you and hopefully have back-up power ready to go if needed.”
Have a Plan for Sheltering
Local community leaders are rethinking the layouts of public hurricane shelters to provide the appropriate social distancing between families. But how many shelters and how much capacity will be available is uncertain, which is why planning to stay with others if you live in an evacuation zone is very important, said Luis Collado, assistant vice president for Environmental Health and Safety, EOC Accreditation,. He also oversees emergency preparedness at Baptist Health South Florida.
“More than ever, we want everyone to have a family plan, that includes family pets, for sheltering,” said Mr. Collado. “And if you’re not able to shelter at home, you need to have a plan to shelter with a family member or friend — in the event that public shelters are limited in the community. And your supplies need to include masks and sanitation items to help you and your family members stay safe and adhere to social distancing guidelines.”
Emergency preparedness experts stress that you should give yourself more time than usual to prepare your emergency food, water, medications and any medical supplies. Home delivery is the safest choice for buying disaster supplies; however, that may not be an option for everyone, states the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on its hurricane preparedness webpage. “If in-person shopping is your only choice, take steps to protect your and others’ health when running essential errands,” the CDC says.
Avoid Pre- and Post-Storm Injuries
All Baptist Health facilities are open, with enhanced safety measures for patients and staff to prevent infection. Before and after a storm, everyone should continue to treat diagnosed conditions, such as high blood pressure and diabetes, because the additional stress from preparing for and riding out a storm can have an impact on one’s health. Moreover, getting your prescribed medication refills may be difficult or impossible immediately after a storm.
All residents should be very cautious when preparing a home before the storm, especially when putting up shutters or moving large items around the home. After the storm is when most of the area’s emergency rooms become busy with injuries that can be avoided, such as mishaps that occur while removing debris or climbing ladders to remove shutters or doing minor roof repairs.
“When I was working in the ER after Hurricane Irma, there were so many people that went outside in the dark that fell over debris and hit their heads,” recalls Dr. Braden. “They didn’t have adequate flashlights. So, make sure you are careful and have good flashlights.”
Tips from the CDC
Here are more hurricane preparedness tips from the CDC related to the COVID-19 pandemic:
- Pay attention to local guidance about updated plans for evacuations and shelters, including potential shelters for your pets and shelters for any family members with special medical needs.
- If you need to evacuate, prepare a “go kit” with personal items you cannot do without during an emergency. Include items that can help protect you and others from COVID-19, such as hand sanitizer, or bar or liquid soap if not available, and two cloth face coverings for each person. Face covers should not be used by children under the age of 2. They also should not be used by people having trouble breathing, or who are unconscious, incapacitated, or unable to remove the mask without assistance.
- When you check on neighbors and friends, be sure to follow social distancing recommendations (staying at least 6 feet, about 2 arms’ length, from others) and other CDC recommendations to protect yourself and others.
- If you need to go to a disaster shelter, follow CDC recommendations for staying safe and healthy in a public disaster shelter  during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Infographic by Irina de Souza.