How to Prepare for a Hurricane in the Midst of a Pandemic
Just because we largely dodged the proverbial bullet with Isaias doesn’t mean we’re out of the woods when it comes to hurricanes, so our family practice doctors want you to be prepared. Not only are forecasters predicting twice the usual average number of storms for the current hurricane season (which peaks September 10th), but preparation and evacuation will be complicated by the coronavirus pandemic.
The following tips were compiled from the American Red Cross, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the National Hurricane Center, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
Planning in the time of COVID-19
The CDC offers the following tips for extra safety:
- Give yourself more time than usual to prepare your emergency food, water, and medical supplies.
- Protect yourself and others when filling prescriptions and purchasing disaster supplies. Opt for home delivery when possible.
- Pay attention to local guidance about updated plans for evacuations and shelters, including shelters for your pets.
- If staying with friends or family, talk to them about how you can all protect yourselves from the coronavirus. As we saw with Isaias, testing centers shut down ahead of a storm, so if you think you need to be tested, try to do it as early as possible to ensure time to receive test results before evacuating.
Before the storm
- Be sure you have a 30-day supply of your medications—both prescription and non-prescription—on hand before the storm hits. Talk to us if you need refills of any drugs you may be taking.
- If you are on dialysis, talk to the doctors or staff at the dialysis center about where to go after the storm.
- If you use medical devices such as oxygen concentrators, be sure the batteries are fully charged and know where to go if the battery doesn’t work.
- If you are on a special diet, be sure to have enough food available to last at least a week. And have enough bottled water available for everyone in the household to prevent dehydration. The rule of thumb is one gallon per person per day.
- If you have service animals or pets, make sure they have enough water, food, and any medications for them to last at least 10 days after the storm.
- If the power goes out, hand sanitizers, cleaning supplies, and hand wipes will be critical to disinfect surfaces, so be sure to have plenty available. FEMA also recommends you have at least two face coverings available for each member of your family.
- Make sure to take all your medical paperwork with you if you evacuate: list of current medications, list of drug allergies, insurance cards, and contact numbers for your physicians.
- Download the FEMA mobile app (https://www.fema.gov/mobile-app) to receive real-time weather alerts from the National Weather Service (NWS), and to locate open emergency shelters in your area.
During the storm
- Be prepared for changes at shelters, which will be enforcing social distancing and instituting health screenings for evacuees. Masks will be required, and anyone thought to be infected with COVID-19 will be isolated from the rest of the population.
- If you are in an evacuation shelter, cleanliness is paramount to prevent the spread of illnesses. Wash with soap and water frequently. Use hand sanitizers and wipes as much as possible, and continue to practice social distancing.
- Try to keep insulin as cool as possible, away from direct heat, and out of direct sunlight. If using ice, avoid freezing the insulin.
After the storm
- Avoid floodwaters if at all possible. They are filled with such contaminants as oil and gas, household chemicals, and sewage, not to mention frightened snakes, alligators, and floating fire ant “rafts.”
- If you’re using a generator to maintain power, be sure it’s far enough away from the house to prevent carbon monoxide seeping into the home.
- Do not eat any food or water that may have come into contact with floodwater. If in doubt, throw it out.
- If lifesaving drugs have been exposed to floodwaters, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says that if the container is contaminated but the contents appear unaffected (i.e., the pills are dry), they may be used until replacements are available. Other types of drugs or drug products such as inhalers, oral liquids, drugs for injections, and so forth, should be discarded if they have come in contact with contaminated water.
- Insulin loses its potency according to the temperature it is exposed to and the length of the exposure. Under emergency conditions, you might still need to use the insulin that has been stored above 86 degrees Fahrenheit. When a fresh supply becomes available, discard any questionable insulin remaining.
- Take care during cleanup. Be aware when cutting downed trees that they may have been twisted by the hurricane’s winds or embedded tornadoes. People have died when they cut loose a limb which then freed the torqued trees beneath, causing the chainsaw to lash back on them. Also, be wary of downed power lines.
Finally, don’t hesitate to evacuate if directed to do so out of fear of the coronavirus. The Red Cross has taken additional measures to ensure the safety of evacuees in shelters, so don’t risk an imminent threat for fear of the possibility of another one.