Officials are expecting an active Atlantic hurricane season in 2021, hitting swaths of the United States. At the same time, COVID-19 cases are spiking as the delta variant spreads across the country.
With hurricanes approaching during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, health experts are calling on individuals to protect themselves from the weather and from potential exposure to the virus if they have to evacuate, gather in a shelter and more.
Jane Kelly, an assistant state epidemiologist at the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control, told USA TODAY that “part of hurricane preparedness is thinking ahead about what supplies you need so that you have them on hand.”
“It’s the same thing, thinking about what you need to do to protect yourself and your loved ones from COVID-19,” Kelly said.
USA TODAY’s data reporters are pointing out that Floridians remember Hurricane Andrew, which killed 44 people in the state in 1992. But in the last week alone, Florida has reported over 600 fatalities from COVID-19 — amounting to the same number of deaths as Hurricane Andrew happening 14 times.
If you live in the path of a storm, here’s what you need to know to keep you and your family safe during the pandemic and hurricane season:
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The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration last week said that 15 to 21 named storms are expected to develop during the current hurricane season, including hurricanes and tropical storms.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has warned that preparing for hurricanes looks different during the coronavirus pandemic. The CDC encourages eligible people to “get a COVID-19 vaccine as soon as you can” to widely avoid getting or spreading the virus if evacuation to a shelter or the home of a loved one is needed.
Kelly told USA TODAY that South Carolina officials are concerned about unvaccinated people gathering in shelters during hurricanes, creating “a perfect storm for the rapid spread of the virus.”
“The people who may not be vaccinated may be the ones who are least prepared for having an alternative shelter for hurricane season and, therefore, need to go to some congregate shelter,” she said.
If “we have a hurricane, and people need to move to shelters, it’s going to be difficult to keep people at a distance,” she added.
Kelly noted that people should think ahead about getting fully vaccinated against COVID-19 before a potential storm.
“Don’t wait until hurricanes are upon us and then think, ‘Uh oh, if I have to go to a shelter, I better go get vaccinated today,’” she said. “Because you won’t be protected.”
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The CDC also encourages people preparing before a hurricane or tropical storm to “give yourself more time than usual” to gather emergency food, water and prescriptions, or have the items delivered.
If individuals plan to evacuate and stay with friends or family, the CDC also says they should talk with their hosts “about how you can all best protect yourselves from COVID-19.” That includes considering if anyone from either household is at risk of developing a severe case of the virus.
If individuals are also in crowded, indoor shelters during storms, they may want to keep a distance from others, wear a mask and wash their hands frequently, health officials recommend.
American Red Cross spokesperson Jenelle Eli told USA TODAY that, whether you’re creating an emergency kit to stay at home or to leave quickly during a storm, individuals should pack additional masks and hand sanitizer along with items like flashlights and water.
“After back-to-back years of active hurricane seasons that have broken records, the American Red Cross is urging people in hurricane-prone areas to get ready now,” Eli said.