Expert: Evacuate for hurricanes despite virus fears

Weather Headlines

Disaster response officials around the U.S. South are still scrambling to adjust their hurricane plans to the coronavirus, social distancing and a cratering economy. 

The big question: Where will people fleeing storms go?

More than 60% of the coastal counties surveyed by The Associated Press said as of late May that they were still firming up their plans for public hurricane shelters.

They also must alter other hurricane planning problems like dealing with the sick and elderly, protective equipment and clean-up costs.

Hurricane season officially starts Monday, though Tropical Storms Arthur and Bertha arrived early. 

Forecasters are expecting a busier-than-normal season.

Many counties are taking federal and American Red Cross advice and hope to use hotels and motels as smaller non-congregate shelters.

Craig Fugate, former administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, says some states are considering it, at least for high-risk populations.

Others plan to use more parts of schools rather than or in addition to the big gymnasiums. 

Still others, especially in Louisiana, plan for big shelters, just with more distance between people.

Officials everywhere emphasize that public shelters are last resorts, urging most people to find their own inland refuge with friends or in hotels. 

But massive unemployment is making that more expensive option less palatable.

Fugate says whatever protective measures are taken to minimize the spread of the virus have to be followed by aggressive testing and contact tracing.

“That’s the thing I see lacking in a lot of these plans is everybody’s focused on what to do differently about COVID,” he said. “I’m concerned we’re not addressing what we’re gonna do when COVID does occur.”

And no matter what: “If you live in an evacuation zone, your plan is to evacuate if ordered to do so by local officials when a hurricane threatens,” Fugate said. “This message will not change, COVID or no COVID.”

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. 

For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death. 

The vast majority of people recover.

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