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Hillsborough County leaders dive into hurricane shelter plans amid COVID-19 crisis

HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla.—Hillsborough County leaders are not taking this hurricane season lightly as another possible tropical system churns towards the United States.

At a Board of County Commissioners’ special meeting Thursday afternoon, Emergency Management officials shared shelter plans amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“What’s going to be unique about a COVID hurricane season, again not only are we going to be looking to increase space within the shelters, we’re going to open up more shelters,” said Hillsborough County Emergency Management Deputy Director Inaki Rezola. “So if we’re anticipating a significant storm, even an A or a B, we may be opening up all the shelters that we have to create that physical distancing that may be necessary.”

Rezola said if there’s a smaller storm, they may still open more shelters than in the past to give people more space. The team also provided shelter screening and layout examples, with temperature and medical screening stations, registration areas spaced six feet apart, and a separate isolation area for those with potential symptoms or who may show up sick.

Below is the shelter screening example:

Below is the general layout example:

The American Red Cross works closely with counties across the state when there’s a storm.

“If it wasn’t the coronavirus, we plan for 20 square feet because we want to get as many people in as possible,” said Eric Corliss of the Red Cross. “But with this current condition, we plan on 60 square feet per person, so we have more space to create that more distance and then also the cleaning supplies, so there’s more regular cleaning, there’s additional hand sanitizer.”

County officials shared standards inside shelters include masks for people five and older, routine cleaning, pre-packaged or individual meals and limiting the number of people in a room if possible.

Corliss explains emergency management officials may zero in even more now on what zones really need to evacuate as a storm inches close.

“I think what we’re going to see, what I anticipate is more deliberate,” said Corliss. “In Irma, we saw everybody go ‘It’s going to be bad.’ That was pretty traumatic. It was some pretty big declarations. Now it’s going to be ‘Let’s look these areas and really focus in.”

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