ATLANTA, Ga. – While residents along the Gulf Coast seek shelter from Hurricane Laura, they should still keep the threat of COVID-19 in mind.
Emergency managers, shelter managers, and public health professionals are taking measures to reduce the possible spread of the coronavirus among people who seek safety in a disaster shelter during severe weather events like this.
For those staying in a shelter during the storm, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offered some tips to lower the risk of coronavirus infection:
Preparing to shelter
- If you need to evacuate, the CDC says to prepare a “go kit” with personal items you cannot do without during an emergency. That includes items that can help protect you and others from COVID-19, like hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol, soap, disinfectant wipes, and two masks for each person.
- Know a safe place to shelter and have several ways to receive weather alerts, such as the National Weather Service’s cell phone alerts, NOAA Weather Radio, or NWS alerts on Twitter.
- Find out if your local public shelter is open, in case you need to evacuate your home and go there. Your shelter location may be different this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Follow guidance from your local public health or emergency management officials on when and where to shelter.
- Make a plan and prepare a disaster kit for your pets. Find out if your disaster shelter will accept pets. Typically, when shelters accommodate pets, the pets are housed in a separate area from people.
- Follow safety precautions when using transportation to evacuate. If you have to travel away from your community to evacuate, follow safety precautions for travelers to protect yourself and others from COVID-19.
While in a public shelter
- Practice social distancing. Stay at least 6 feet from other people outside of your household.
- Follow CDC COVID-19 preventive actions—wash your hands often, cover coughs and sneezes, and follow shelter policies for wearing masks. Avoid sharing food and drink with anyone if possible.
- Follow disaster shelter policies and procedures designed to protect everyone in the shelter, especially those who are at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19, including older adults and people of any age who have serious underlying medical conditions.
- Avoid touching high-touch surfaces, such as handrails, as much as possible. Wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use hand sanitizers with at least 60% alcohol immediately after you touch these surfaces.
- Keep your living area in the shelter clean and disinfect frequently touched items such as toys, cellphones, and other electronics.
- If you feel sick when you arrive at the shelter or start to feel sick while sheltering, tell shelter staff immediately.
Keeping children safe in shelters
- Teach and reinforce everyday preventive actions for keeping children healthy.
- Make sure children aged 2 and older wear masks. Masks should not be used by children under the age of 2. They also should not be used by people having trouble breathing, or who are unconscious, incapacitated, or unable to remove the mask without assistance.
- Be a good role model—if you wash your hands often, your children are more likely to do the same.
- Help your children stay at least 6 feet away from anyone who is not in your household.
- Watch your child for any signs of illness and tell shelter staff if your child may be ill.
- Try to deal with the disaster calmly and confidently, as this can provide the best support for your children. Help children cope with emergencies.