Gulf coasters are no strangers to preparing for a weather event. And, by now, you probably feel like you're no stranger to navigating a pandemic, either. But, prepping for a storm during the COVID-19 pandemic might still feel somewhat new.
Whether you're vaccinated or not — and especially if you're not — your storm prep will need to look different again this year.
Here are some tips to help you safely stay prepared during hurricane season:
Understand your COVID-19 risk
If you're fully vaccinated, you're now more protected from COVID-19 and can feel comfortable doing many things, including running storm prep errands and hunkering down with another vaccinated household if needed.
That being said, we're currently experiencing another COVID-19 surge, with high caseloads in many counties.
No vaccine is ever 100% effective and breakthrough infections are possible, so be sure to continue being more cautious in these settings by wearing a mask, keeping your distance and even leveraging online purchasing or delivery services when possible.
In addition, those who are immunocompromised are higher risk — even if vaccinated. For this reason, third shots are now available to those with weakened immune systems. (Related: 5 Questions About Getting Your Third Dose of COVID-19 Vaccine, Answered). If you or someone you love is immunocompromised, take extra steps to keep him or her safe during this surge.
If you're not yet vaccinated, now is the time. By getting vaccinated, you reap all the protective benefits of immunity without ever facing the risks that come with COVID-19, including severe illness or inadvertently spreading the virus to others.
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.
Storm prep steps include:
- 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:
- The safety measures you take while running essential errands. If you're fully vaccinated, you can feel safer while running errands. However, be sure to wear a mask, keep your distance from others, practice proper hand hygiene and avoid touching your face. If you're not vaccinated or are vaccinated but high risk, consider leveraging curbside pickup and home delivery.
- The new additions to your emergency supplies kit. Before a hurricane hits, make sure your home, car and evacuation kit are ready to go — stocked with COVID-19 essentials. In addition to the traditional essentials, make sure your evacuation kit has two masks per person, plenty of hand sanitizer that uses at least 60% alcohol, and disinfectant wipes — whether you're vaccinated or not.
- The length of time it may take to stock up on supplies. You've likely noticed, but the supply chain is still being affected by the pandemic. This means that quickly getting your hands on household essentials or personal items can sometimes be challenging. 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.
What to consider 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. Know who is vaccinated and who isn't, if anyone is higher risk for COVID-19 and how comfortable each person in the group feels about combining households.
For individuals who aren't fully vaccinated, maintaining social distancing remains important. If social distancing will be too challenging in a person's home, or someone in the household is unvaccinated and 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.
Lastly, watch out for symptoms of COVID-19 — whether you're vaccinated or not. And, in the event of a medical emergency, it helps to know how to handle medical situations during a natural disaster ahead of time and that, during the pandemic, the safest place to be during a medical emergency is still the emergency room.
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 think you may need to go to a public shelter during a natural disaster, the CDC recommends getting vaccinated for COVID-19 as soon as possible. The vaccine can help protect you, as well as other people around you.