COVID-19 presents new challenges for storm preparations

Coronavirus

HONOLULU (KHON2) — Emergency officials say the COVID-19 pandemic presents new challenges in preparing for a storm. So planning ahead is even more critical than ever.

Officials say they’re looking for more available sites that can be used as emergency shelters. That’s because they’ll need more space to accommodate physical distancing and the possibility that some people might have to be isolated.

“We’re making sure that there’s classrooms available if someone is symptomatic that we can isolate them from the rest of the shelter, according to shelter screening procedures,” said Jennifer Walter, deputy director of the Honolulu Department of Emergency Management.

Those screening procedures will be similar to what travelers go through at the airport, temperature checks and questions about symptoms and recent travel history. Officials point out that more volunteers will also be needed. So they stress going to a shelter only as a last resort.

Those who live in homes that have hurricane clips are asked to shelter in place and take care of others.

“Make it available to your family members that can shelter in place with you because the more we can do ahead of time to people’s plans to stay at shelters, the less impact we’re gonna have in trying to scramble and open sites,” said Walter.

Other plans that are still in the works include using hotels for shelters. The state says it’s working with the Hawaii Tourism Authority to identify certain properties that can be used for emergency situations.

“We have some occupancy in those facilities that could be leveraged. There have been some initial conversations on those as a potential emergency protective measure to kind of complement our sheltering capacity. But they’ve only been some conversations at this point,” said Luke Meyers, administrator of the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency.

People who go to shelters are asked to bring their own masks and hand sanitizers. With so many people out of work, families also face the challenge of not having the 14-day of supply of food. Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell says he’s hoping to start a program that would provide families with assistance cards to buy food.

“It would have restrictions so you couldn’t buy alcohol with it, you couldn’t buy tobacco with it. But you can buy food with it, but it’s not in place at this time. It’s something we are working hard to get done,” he said.

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