Disaster Preparedness and COVID-19

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has predicted 3 to 6 major hurricanes this year due to warming oceans. This is in contrast to an average season of 3 storms. In addition, the National Interagency Fire Center is preparing for more fires due to droughts in the western US this spring. Because of COVID-19, firefighters were not able to conduct as many controlled fires which may also increase the risk for very big fires.

People take shelter after flood waters from Hurricane Harvey inundated Houston, Texas. August 29, 2017 (Source: Joe Raedle/Getty).

COVID-19 may contribute to challenges to disaster response measures. For example, during hurricanes many people are displaced and stay with family and friends or in shelters, but this may increase the risk of COVID-19 spreading. It is possible for social distancing within the shelters but would require more volunteers to help.

Some Federal agencies are providing guidance, including FEMA, but individual states and communities must decide how best to enforce rules, such as wearing masks and social distancing. The Red Cross is already changing some of their practices due to COVID-19. They are working on putting people in hotels and dorms, rather than emergency shelters.

COVID-19 may make it more difficult to convince people to evacuate because of all the messaging around social distancing. If there is a hurricane, it will be important to convince people that the dangers of the hurricane are greater than virus exposure. Until then, it is vital that people continue to social distance, wear masks, and practice good hygiene to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Read more at Global Health Now.