by Kathy Panko

Hurricane Season and CoVidAnother hurricane season has begun! Weather experts are predicting an above-average season, which started on June 1 and ends on November 30. A normal season brings around six Atlantic hurricanes, but forecasters are predicting eight this year. Risks are being compounded by the coronavirus pandemic, which has led to significant changes at hurricane shelters.

All county emergency shelters will be following the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) guidelines on social distancing and health screenings. CDC is updating its website daily with the latest information and advice for the public. Information can be found on www.cdc.gov/ncov.

Palm Beach County has 15 primary hurricane shelters, all of them located at public schools. There’s also a shelter at the South Florida Fairgrounds for people with special needs and a pet-friendly hurricane shelter at the West Boynton Park and Recreation Center.

With over 11,000 cases of the Covid-19 and over 490 deaths in Palm Beach County, officials are taking extra precautions to keep residents safe from this threat. State officials are working with FEMA to create “non-congregate shelters” at places like hotels with large conference or banquet rooms to allow for more social distancing. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) should now be a part of standard hurricane preparedness. The CDC recommends that those evacuating to shelters bring with them hand sanitizer, liquid or bar soap and masks in their hurricane kits. In addition, evacuees will be given hygiene kits with masks and hand sanitizer. Temperature checks will be required at every shelter.

Before entering a shelter, evacuees will be screened for the Covid-19. Those who test positive or are considered to be likely cases will be placed in designated isolation areas.

Social distancing will be enforced. Families will be allowed to stay together, but six feet separating each group. Deputies will be stationed at each facility to remind people about the distancing and there will be markings on the floor to indicate the six-foot separation. There will be designated areas for distribution of food and eating. Meals will not be served buffet-style. Instead, boxed food will be served. People are advised to plan their evacuation route to the shelter well ahead of time.

Don’t wait to stock your hurricane survival kit. For those sheltering at home, make sure you have enough food, water, and medicine to last seven days without power. In addition to typical emergency supplies such as batteries, flashlights, fire extinguishers, battery-powered radios and lanterns, drinking water and medicine. FEMA now advises everyone to include face masks, gloves, hand sanitizers, first aid kits, liquid or bar soap and disinfectants to limit the spread of germs..”

FEMA recently released the “Covid-19 Pandemic Operational Guidance for the 2020 Hurricane Season” to help emergency managers and public health officials best prepare for disasters while continuing to respond to and recover from the pandemic. The guide and much more can be found on www.FEMA.gov.

Please keep Covid-19 in mind when making or revising a plan for you and your loved ones, and don’t forget your pets.