NORFOLK, Va. - With hurricane season fast approaching, the current COVID-19 public health crisis could have major impacts on how localities prepare.
Joshua Behr is with the Virginia Modeling, Analysis & Simulation Center at Old Dominion University. He says how municipalities get ready for hurricane season, which officially begins on June 1, must take COVID-19 into account.
"We know the health crisis that is going on right now is likely to continue well into the fall," Behr told News 3 anchor Todd Corillo. "There is a reasonable probability that we’re going to have a series of severe weather events, perhaps even a hurricane or two approaching the Atlantic coast this season. It’s wise to prepare our understanding of evacuation and sheltering under the current public health COVID-19 crisis."
Evacuation orders and opening emergency shelters will likely see the greatest impact.
"There are particular sheltering practices, evacuation orders, and messaging that local emergency management officials engage in and the governor’s office engage in. It would be wise to help that community better understand the needs of a fragile population and how that messaging for evacuating and sheltering ought to be adjusted or take into account the current public health crisis," Behr said.
"There’s some additional things we have to think about in the case of sheltering during the current pandemic. One is simply the capacity of the shelters. Traditionally, the capacity of the shelters are figured persons per square-foot. With the social distancing currently underway, the capacity of those shelters will be greatly reduced. So, how do you make up for that loss of capacity? You open additional shelters, etc. Those are things we need to think about now," he added.
Staffing an emergency shelter might also be a challenge.
"Some of those folks who work in the shelters may have families, young children, and they may not want to work in a shelter under pandemic conditions, so there’s a workforce impact here also," Behr said.
Any shelters that do open will likely need to screen evacuees for COVID-19, and Behr says the mechanisms for doing that need to be established now.