How to Prepare for a Hurricane During COVID-19Aug. 14, 2020 - Katie McCallum
Let's start with the good news: We're about halfway through Houston's hurricane season.
The potentially bad news, however, is that the rest of the 2020 hurricane season looks like it could be "very busy," according to Space City Weather.
Houstonians are no strangers to preparing for hurricanes. And by now, you probably feel like you're no stranger to living through a pandemic, either. But, navigating how to best prepare for a hurricane during the COVID-19 pandemic is something new for all of us.
Given the nature of how COVID-19 spreads, your hurricane preparation will need to look a little different this year. Here are some tips to help you stayed prepared as hurricane season potentially heats up over the next few months.
Know how the COVID-19 pandemic affects your hurricane planning
First thing's first, it's important to know how to prepare for a hurricane — pandemic or not. The CDC recommends preparing for any hurricane by:
- Gathering emergency supplies
- Making sure your car is ready to go
- Having a plan for your family and pets
- Preparing your home
- Knowing what to do if you need to evacuate, as well as if you need to stay home
But, there are new challenges to face this hurricane season. Along with just about everything else in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic will affect how you prepare for a hurricane, including:
- The length of time it may take to stock up on supplies. You've likely already noticed, but the supply chain has been affected by COVID-19. This means that quickly getting your hands on household essentials or personal items, like toilet paper or hand soap, can be challenging right now. Start stocking up on everyday essentials now (but don't hoard!), so you can be sure you have plenty of what you need in the event a hurricane does hit.
- The safety measures you take while running essential errands. Right now, curbside pickup and home delivery are the best options for safely stocking up supplies. But, these options aren't always feasible or available. If you need to run errands in person, be sure to wear a mask, keep your distance from others, practice proper hand hygiene and avoid touching your face.
- How you ensure that you have plenty of your medications. In the event that you may not have access to your pharmacy during or after a hurricane, it's important to make sure your prescriptions are filled and up to date. It may also be prudent to have a 30-day supply of your medications on hand, especially if you have an underlying health condition, such as diabetes or high blood pressure, that when mismanaged can put you at high risk of developing a severe case of COVID-19. The CDC recommends using mail-order delivery, your pharmacy's drive-thru or curbside pickup to refill medications as often as possible.
- The new additions to your evacuation kit. Before a hurricane hits, make sure your car and evacuation kit are ready to go — stocked with COVID-19 essentials. In addition to water, ready-to-eat food, medications, first-aid supplies, as well as baby or pet supplies if needed, make sure your evacuation kit has two masks per person, plenty of hand sanitizer that uses at least 60% alcohol, and disinfectant wipes.
What to know if your evacuation plan involves staying with family or friends
In some cases, you may feel safe riding out a hurricane at home. In other cases, your family situation, medical history or just general concern may make weathering the hurricane at home a challenge. In addition, if the hurricane is bad enough, city officials may order you to evacuate.
Regardless of why you might evacuate, if you decide to stay with family and friends, it's important to be sure you're practicing the preventive behaviors needed to keep everyone safe from COVID-19.
Start preparing your evacuation plan well in advance by determining which family or friend you plan to stay with and checking in to make sure he or she can accommodate your family safely.
Households may need to combine during a hurricane, but maintaining social distancing remains important. You may even wish to avoid shared spaces as much as possible. If social distancing will be too challenging in a person's home, or someone in the household is at higher risk of getting very sick from COVID-19, you may want to consider finding another family member or friend to stay with if you can.
Next, make sure both households know and agree on the COVID-19 safety measures you all plan to take, including:
- Practicing social distancing in shared spaces
- Washing your hands often
- Covering coughs
- Avoiding touching your face
Lastly, know what to do if someone in the house is showing signs and symptoms of COVID-19. And, in the event of a medical emergency, know that the safest place to be during an emergency is still the emergency room — even during a pandemic and even during a hurricane.
What to know if you need to go to a public disaster shelter
Whether an evacuation order is mandated or the hurricane forces you out of your home, you may find yourself needing to go to a public disaster shelter.
During a hurricane, it's important to stay informed of the recommendations from your local leaders — and know where the closest public disaster shelter is to your home. When it's time to leave, make sure you bring along your evacuation kit containing all of the personal items you need, as well as the COVID-19-related essentials.
While at a public shelter, the CDC recommends protecting yourself and other by:
- Practicing social distancing
- Following the shelter's guidelines for wearing a mask
- Washing your hands regularly
- Covering your coughs and sneezes
- Avoiding sharing food and drink with others
- Avoiding touching common surfaces as often as possible — and washing your hands or using hand sanitizer immediately afterwards
- Avoiding touching your face
- Keeping your living area clean and disinfecting your items regularly
- Alerting shelter staff immediately if you're showing symptoms of COVID-19
If you have children, be sure to set a good example by following these measures yourself and reminding them how important it is that they do the same.
While it may be nerve-wracking to go to a public shelter during a pandemic, know that your immediate safety during a hurricane takes priority over everything else. If you live in the Houston area, rest assured that city officials are preparing to operate public disaster shelters in accordance with COVID-19 safety measures.
"Shelters will be modified to separate families as much as is feasible and hold fewer people, whether that be by walls separating rooms or by simply designating larger spaces that allow for greater distance between families," said Lina Hildago, Harris County Judge, in an interview with Space City Weather. "We're ready to institute temperature checks and have PPE (personal protective equipment) on hand for folks who need it. We're also working with our first-responder community, making sure they not only have enough PPE on hand for any response, but that they are also trained on how to use it."
- City of Houston Emergency Operations Center
- Space City Weather – Hype-free forecasts for the Greater Houston area