SARASOTA, Fla. - From COVID-19 to preparing for a storm, emergency management teams across the state are ready.
"It's just a quick shift in gears. We feel like we are more prepared than we ever will be," said Manatee County's Public Safety Director Jacob Saur.
Saur explained that planning has been in the works since March when COVID-19 was first detected in Florida.
"When a storm comes it’s just a quick shift to focus on the storm and to get right back to COVID-19. If there’s any silver lining to a storm coming during a pandemic is the emergency management folks, our public safety team, we’ve already been running that marathon. So it’s just a quick shift in gears. We feel like we are more prepared than we ever will be. This is something we will get through and this too shall pass," said Saur.
If a storm heads our way and evacuations are ordered, shelters will have COVID-19 screenings in place.
Temperature checks will be performed and a few questions will be asked. COVID-19 positive evacuees would not be turned away but quarantined in a separate space. Social distancing will limit the number of people accepted.
"It's severely limited our shelter capacity space, we want to make sure there’s enough space in those shelters for individuals and families to social distance from one another," said Saur.
It's an adjustment all counties are experiencing.
"We've lost about 50% of our capacity," said Ed McCrane.
Sarasota County's Emergency Management Chief Ed McCrane said his 11 evacuation centers will now only hold 15,000 people, compared to 30,000 in past years.
COVID-19 concerns will bring extra cleanings. In Sarasota County, most shelters are in public schools.
"The school district has assigned more janitorial custodial staff to each campus so that they can ensure sanitization and cleanliness is there," said McCrane.
It boils down to this, you need a hurricane plan now. If evacuations are ordered staying with a friend, family member or hotel will be best.
"Because of the diminished capacity they need to use the shelter as a last resort," said McCrane.