BOCA RATON, Fla. – Gov. Ron DeSantis and Florida Department of Emergency Management Director Jared Moskowitz held a news conference Friday afternoon to discuss hurricane preparedness as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to cause challenges for Floridians.
DeSantis and Moskowitz spoke inside a Boca Raton Home Depot where they also announced COVID-19 testing sites would be coming to three Home Depot locations and three Publix locations within the state.
DeSantis said these sites will allow shoppers to be tested for the respiratory illness while they are out shopping.
“These sites are not meant for people who feel sick. If you feel sick, if you have symptoms, we are not asking you to come drive here, we want you to go to the testing sites we have set up, but if you’re out shopping, if you’re out back in society, and you just want to get a test, you want to know for sure, we want to make it convenient and that’s the whole point of these sites, retail sites,” Moskowitz said.
Hurricane season officially begins on Monday and extends through November 30, and emergency personnel across the state are warning Floridians that hurricane preparedness and response will look quite different this year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“The governor has talked about hurricane season, and I promise there is no one that wishes we do not have a hurricane more than myself, but we’ll be ready,” Moskowitz said. “The folks at the division of emergency management are battle-tested. We’ll be ready.”
WATCH LIVE | Gov. Ron DeSantis holds news conference with emergency management director
WATCH LIVE | Gov. Ron DeSantis holds news conference with emergency management director. https://bit.ly/3cbYPGNPosted by News 6 WKMG / ClickOrlando on Friday, May 29, 2020
Moskowitz said that this is the first time the state has had to go into a hurricane season with the added, critical layer that a pandemic brings. He said that many staff members in the emergency planning department have been diverted from their daily tasks of managing the pandemic to the added management of a potentially busy hurricane season.
“This is the first time we’ve been at a level one carrying into hurricane season,” Moskowitz said. “We have done a lot of hurricane preparation. I’ve taken our planning cells, separated them out from our COVID-19 day-to-day response, to make sure they are doing hurricane COVID-19 response to find the things that they would change.”
The way Florida evacuates and takes shelter from hurricanes will be vastly different this year.
According to Moskowitz, the FDEM has been working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, FEMA and the American Red Cross to develop shelter standards that can accommodate those seeking safety without subjecting them to COVID-19.
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“We are also really leading the charge on non-congregating sheltering - that’s using hotels as potential shelters," Moskowitz said. "We have compiled a list of 200 hotels that have signed up to do that, we are going to continue to add to that and we will provide those to the counties… we do want to make sure that they have the tools available, whether they decide to use those non-congregating shelters for COVID positive people only, for seniors only or people with underlying conditions, or just general use… but we want to give folks options because the most important thing, in my opinion, going into hurricane season is that if you live in an area and that area is not safe for you with the hurricane approaching, we must make sure that you feel comfortable to leave your house and get out of harm’s way.”
Moskowitz also said that in the state’s current climate, evacuating to a shelter may not be the best option in all instances. He said that if a home is up to code, they may prove safer than a shelter where introducing cases of COVID-19 would be more likely.
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“We also want you to know your home, especially in the June and July period when maybe our storms are not major hurricanes like the August and September period. And that may be because if your home is safe for that hurricane approaching, sheltering in place may be the best option for you,” Moskowitz said. “If you live in a newer structure, a newer house that has more up to date code and we’re not dealing with a major hurricane perhaps staying in place is the best-case scenario for you.”
Since the coronavirus was first detected in the state on March 1, Florida has seen supply hoarding, causing major shortages of many essential items like cleaning supplies and toilet paper. Moskowitz said this simply cannot happen as the state prepares for hurricane season.
“We want to make sure you have seven days of supplies, now is the time to go do that,” Moskowitz said. “Let’s not rush to the stores as we get into a hurricane or with a hurricane approaching, let’s make sure we are being proactive because as we know supply chains because of the pandemic have been difficult. Right now is the time to do that in an orderly fashion.”
The governor reminded Floridians to take advantage of the state’s hurricane sales tax holiday to stock up on necessary supplies.
“Please take advantage (of the tax holiday) if you need flashlights, if you need batteries, if you need generators - any other materials through this period - it’s all tax-free,” DeSantis said. “We want people to plan, have a plan for their family, prepare, and hopefully we get spared by having major storms hit the state of Florida, but as we know, going through this every year, you’ve got to be prepared for the storms to come and if you’re prepared you’ll be able to weather the storm effectively.”