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Sarasota Monday, May 18, 2020 2 weeks ago

County prepares for potential hurricane evacuations amid COVID-19

Officials are considering additional measures such as more space between people, masks and extra sanitation.
by: Brynn Mechem Staff Writer

As hurricane season approaches, county leaders are working on a plan  to  evacuate and shelter residents in the face of COVID-19, should the need arise.

Typically, residents would be assigned to one of the county’s 11 evacuation shelters.

However, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommending at least 6 feet in between people, the county has had to rethink its plan.

The first thing to consider, Emergency Management Chief Ed McCrane said, is whether to evacuate. 

If the county is not calling for residents’ area to be evacuated, McCrane said they should shelter in place to avoid unnecessary exposure.

In the event of an evacuation, residents are first asked to try to find an alternative to one of the county’s shelters, McCrane said.

“We would ask people to try to stay with friends or family members that have not been affected by COVID-19 outside of the evacuation area,” McCrane said. “If that’s not an option, we ask they go to a hotel. The last resort, if they have no other place to go, would be an evacuation center.”

McCrane said the state is trying to work with the Federal Emergency Management Agency on leasing hotel rooms or college dorm rooms for noncongregate shelter space.

Because of COVID-19 guidelines, the centers cannot hold as many people as normal. Typically, 20 square feet is allotted per person. However, with new regulations, people could be allotted 60-100 square feet each, which cuts capacity by about a third.

Additionally, officials are looking at requiring screening at the door, enhanced sanitation and the use of masks in the shelters. 

“Right now is a good opportunity to go buy those things and pack them,” McCrane said. “Do not wait until the last minute.”

Pets, however, can come into the shelters as normal as long as they follow the requirementslaid forth by the county. 

McCrane said officials ask that only the owners handle the pets and they should be taken directly outside and back in, when weather permits. 

“We don’t want them wandering through the crowds of people where somebody might reach out and pet them,” he said.

Aside from preparing disaster kits, McCrane said residents should be sure to sign up for the county’s new alert system, which is replacing the Code Red system to stay up to date on emergency information.

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