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Coronavirus Will Make The 2020 Hurricane Season Even More Dangerous. America Isn’t Ready.

In a normal year, predictions of an “above average” Atlantic hurricane season spurs a flurry of disaster planning. But, this year, the Co...

In a normal year, predictions of an “above average” Atlantic hurricane season spurs a flurry of disaster planning. But, this year, the Coronavirus pandemic blunted the impact of these grim predictions. With top hurricane forecasters predicting sixteen named storms and warning of potentially up to four major Category 3, 4, or 5 storms this year, a hurricane hit in the midst of a pandemic is likely.

Is America ready?

Time is short. The Atlantic Hurricane season begins on June 1, just as America is set to enter a delicate re-opening process. Making things worse, the pandemic crisis has sucked resources away from seasonal disaster preparations while making hurricane planning—something of a simple “cookbook” enterprise for many at-risk communities—a far more complex endeavor.

Without strong, focused leadership at all levels of government, America will face a tough and lethal hurricane season.

The virus will make everything in hurricane preparedness harder.

There is, for example, no plan in place to support virus-safe social distancing for hurricane evacuees. It is a real question if the array of needed hotels and other services will be ready—or even open—to support a tsunami of temporary coastal refugees that flee strong hurricanes. Shelter planning—housing of last resort for many—fails to account for social distancing.

Longer-term recovery is another potential challenge. Supply chains, already stressed, will be hard-pressed to handle the double-tap of potential port disruptions coupled with a sudden localized uptick in demand for everything from batteries and blue tarps to beer and building materials.

By June 1, leaders throughout the Southeast and East Coast must break away from the day-to-day grind of coronavirus response and look to see if sufficient “virus-free” transport, hotels, shelters and temporary or short-term “virus-safe” lodging options will exist when coastal zone refugees head inland, away from any incoming storm.

Testing will be crucial. Universal post-exposure screening and identification mechanisms must be prioritized for hurricane-threatened communities. As the entire nation rushes to appropriate all available testing resources, the White House must do more to ensure that coastal-zone disaster managers will, for example, be able to identify those who have already been infected. It is the only way authorities can guide those who are still vulnerable to infection to “virus-safe” shelters—assuming “virus-safe” shelters can even be stood up.

Rapid-deploying medical surveillance and other vital support resources should be identified now. Those resources can be drilled and prepared over the coming months to backstop communities, helping them handle viral outbreaks during and after the storm’s passage. “Viral-safe” sheltering experiments can start now, leveraging current best “virus-safe” practices by sheltering homeless or other in-need populations.

In addition to material support, a distracted White House must ensure regional travel is unencumbered during an evacuation. At the height of the epidemic, Florida set up highway checkpoints to encourage travelers from Louisiana and other viral hotspots to either stay away or self-quarantine. Such checkpoints during an evacuation may prove fatal.

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