Florida braces for active hurricane season amid pandemic: 'The last thing we need is another catastrophe'

MIAMI –– As the East Coast enters hurricane season, residents are beginning to think about the tough choices they may have to make for their safety.

One lifelong resident of Miami, 26-year-old John-Paul Rodriguez, said people may have to choose the lesser of two evils.

“The last thing we need is another catastrophe ... in my lifetime I've dealt with, I mean, I can't count, but a lot of hurricanes. COVID-19, I mean that is the big worry, right? Do you choose to go to a hurricane shelter and expose yourself to a variety of people? Or do you choose to evacuate,” Rodriguez said.

Florida’s Emergency Management Director Jared Moskowitz said the agency is monitoring virus concerns while planning for a potentially active hurricane season. For example, increasing the number of shelters, leaving more space per family, and having a lot of essential supplies like masks and thermometers.

On its website, FEMA <a data-cke-saved-href="https://www.ready.gov/hurricanes" href="https://www.ready.gov/hurricanes">has updated guidelines for this hurricane season</a>. The changes include encouraging residents to check with local officials about updated evacuation shelters for this year and asking people to bring COVID-19 necessities like cleaning materials, hand sanitizer, and face masks.

On its website, FEMA <a data-cke-saved-href="https://www.ready.gov/hurricanes" href="https://www.ready.gov/hurricanes">has updated guidelines for this hurricane season</a>. The changes include encouraging residents to check with local officials about updated evacuation shelters for this year and asking people to bring COVID-19 necessities like cleaning materials, hand sanitizer, and face masks. (Elina Shirazi)

“I understand, obviously, that there are competing interests here. What I would say is we can mitigate the impacts of COVID-19. Social distancing, personal protection equipment, washing hands, antibacterial. We can mitigate those things. We can't mitigate the impact of a powerful storm if you live in a mandatory evacuation area,” Moskowitz said.

Miami Office of Emergency Management Director Frank Rollason said his biggest fear is that people will choose to follow coronavirus advice and stay at home in the case of an emergency.

County and state officials are advising residents to have an evacuation plan and have at least six days of supplies on hand, as well as personal protective equipment like gloves and masks. 

County and state officials are advising residents to have an evacuation plan and have at least six days of supplies on hand, as well as personal protective equipment like gloves and masks.  (Elina Shirazi)

“I think the biggest challenge that we're facing is that when an evacuation order comes, that the people won't leave, that they'll feel they are better off taking their chances at home than they are getting in with groups of people who may be COVID positive,” Rollason said.

Moskowitz said one of the goals is having a plan for all scenarios.

“That's what keeps me up at night, trying to figure out, you know, what we're not thinking about. Sheltering is something that we're really, really leading the effort on working with our partners at FEMA. You know, how counties decide to use hotels, whether that's for people 65 years, older people with underlying health conditions or people who potentially fail a temperature check at a shelter,” Moskowitz said.

Residents like Rodriguez are making plans early to avoid any last-minute panic.

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Florida’s emergency management director says they are mitigating the impacts of the virus while planning for a potentially active hurricane season. Things like more shelters, more space per family, and an abundance of essential supplies like masks and thermometers.

Florida’s emergency management director says they are mitigating the impacts of the virus while planning for a potentially active hurricane season. Things like more shelters, more space per family, and an abundance of essential supplies like masks and thermometers. (Elina Shirazi)

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“It's already hard to get essentials. It's already hard to get supplies. We're already in shortages, a variety of things. The strain that this could potentially put on this state or any other state that has to deal with a hurricane. You know, it's big,” Rodriguez said.

County and state officials are advising residents to have an evacuation plan and have at least six days of supplies on hand, as well as personal protective equipment like gloves and masks.

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Rodriguez says he has hurricane impact windows and shutters to his backyard. If a hurricane comes and they choose to shelter in place, he says their family will use sandbags in all entryways into their home. He also says they are stocking up on water, food, and candles.

Rodriguez says he has hurricane impact windows and shutters to his backyard. If a hurricane comes and they choose to shelter in place, he says their family will use sandbags in all entryways into their home. He also says they are stocking up on water, food, and candles. (Elina Shirazi)

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is predicting 13 to 19 “named” storms, six to 10 hurricanes, and three to six major hurricanes with wind speeds above 111 miles an hour. A busy hurricane season means there will be an added workload and threat to crisis response teams that already have their hands busy with COVID-19.

“We will be ready, we will be there for our residents in their time of need,” Moskowitz said.

Panic buying expected to double during hurricane season, as a shortage of supplies already exists from the pandemic.

Panic buying expected to double during hurricane season, as a shortage of supplies already exists from the pandemic. (Elina Shirazi)

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On its website, FEMA has updated guidelines for this hurricane season. The changes include encouraging residents to check with local officials about updated evacuation shelters for this year and asking people to bring COVID-19 necessities like cleaning materials, hand sanitizer, and face masks. Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Giménez says that there will also be a phone app called “Ready Miami-Dade,” that will be used to give the population alerts during hurricanes.