Families and officials adjust hurricane preps and response due to COVID-19

Updated: Jun. 1, 2020 at 7:06 PM CDT
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BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - Louisianans know all about hurricane season; it’s just part of the price of admission to live here.

This season feels different, though. It’s not just the potential for storms. It’s also the cloudy forecast around us with the coronavirus. How do we come together when it’s still wise to stay apart? Let’s start with the things you and your family need to make sure you handle. The message this year from emergency officials is while this feels like a different season, you need to take the same precautions when it comes to hurricane season.

That means stocking up on supplies like batteries, flashlights, bottled water, and ready-to-eat foods. Especially important on the list this year are things like hand sanitizer, masks, and gloves. We’ve been telling you to have these items throughout this pandemic but these take on extra meaning if you need to safely deal with a storm.

So, what steps are emergency officials taking to make sure their response to keep you and your family safe isn’t affected by the ongoing pandemic? We spoke with them about what makes this year so different.

Evacuating - scrambling to leave your home with disaster at your door - has to be one of the most stressful and emotional decisions we may ever face. Jillian Brewer and her family made that difficult choice when the Amite and Comite rivers threatened to swallow their neighborhood in August 2016.

“Around 10 o’clock, we heard the fire trucks,” said Brewer. “The fire department came around with sirens blaring saying, ‘Hey y’all need to leave now or you won’t be able to leave at all.’”

This hurricane season brings added worry, though. Her family has grown and, of course, there’s the coronavirus.

"But I have one, I have a 2-year-old and he has a weakened immune system. So, it's just if there is a storm, where do you go for one? And it's always where do you go? But now, it's like, where do we go now? Are we going to somewhere where they have a lot of cases of the coronavirus?" Brewer questioned.

Two-year-old Kamaro is too young to understand or worry about the coronavirus but it’s another layer of planning for parents like Jillian and her husband and many others in our area.

For its part, the state says it’s ready. While the coronavirus is new, emergency managers have spent years thinking about a world where sheltering and a contagious illness collide.

“We’ve been having a hurri-flu plan on the books for quite some time and we’ve drilled it and discussed it ... we’ve equipped ourselves,” said Chris Guilbeaux, assistant deputy director at GOHSEP. “But this is the first time we actually have one where it’s a known flu in these conditions. But this plan has existed for a while and we’ve always been ready to exercise it.”

He added the biggest change when it comes to sheltering will be space.

“So, I think probably the biggest changes we’re going to have with sheltering is the square footage that’s per person. We normally run on about a 30-square foot per person. We’re going to expand that ... 45, potentially even 60. But we’re going to make sure there’s at least six feet between all of the cots,” Guilbeaux added.

ONE-STOP-SHOP: Press conferences, stats, links related to COVID-19

As it stands now, you’ll be screened for any sign of illness before entering shelters. They’ll also have medical personnel on hand.

The CDC recently provided some recommendations for preparing for hurricane season in a world of COVID-19.

  • Allow extra time for gathering food, water, and medical supplies this year. Stores may have limited capacity due to social distancing and may be short on some supplies.
  • Add face masks, soap, and hand sanitizer to your emergency kits.
  • Find your nearest shelter. The location may have changed this year or additional shelters may have been added.
  • Make sure you can take your pets to your planned shelter.

Brewer said her family already has the added supplies but worry how other people will handle coronavirus concerns.

“But we have extra masks, we have the extra sanitizer, we have extra Lysol, and you know, sanitizer wipes. But it’s just you never know how other just have to look out for other people 'cause you never know their concern level when it comes to being ill and then trying to evacuate. 'Cause they can be, you know, full-on contagious, have all the symptoms and everything, but they’re just trying to leave,” she stated.

It’s important to note that both our local officials and the c-d-c say that if ordered to evacuate, you should do so, even if you are COVID-19 positive or not feeling well. just make sure you continue those social distancing measures to whatever extent is possible.

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