How COVID-19 vaccines factor into hurricane shelter plans this year

CDC: COVID-19 risk is lower for vaccinated in a shelter

Tourists rest in a shelter prior to the arrival of Hurricane Delta, at the Technological Institute of Cancun, Mexico, Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2020. Hurricane Delta rapidly intensified into a potentially catastrophic Category 4 hurricane Tuesday on a course to hammer southeastern Mexico and then continue on to the U.S. Gulf Coast this week. (AP Photo/Luis Henao) (Luis Henao, Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

As the second hurricane season approaches amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Floridians who have been vaccinated want to know how inoculations will change disaster shelter plans this year.

In the event of evacuations in coastal or low-lying areas, hurricane shelters will open and that means a lot of people in one place, which is not ideal for preventing the spread of COVID-19. However, this year more than 50% of the population has had at least one dose as of May 31 of the available coronavirus vaccines and by July, President Joe Biden has set a goal for 70%, bringing the U.S. to herd immunity for the disease.

Orlando Health’s corporate director of emergency preparedness Erik Alberts said the plans across shelters will vary depending on a number of factors. Also where a family or person decides to shelter could depend on several variables.

[DOWNLOAD: News 6 Hurricane Preparedness Checklist]

“It’s contingent on the family, in the family unit. And it’s contingent on the environment they live in, the community they live in,” Alberts said. “So each county or jurisdiction ... will have different stances on COVID-19 precautionary measures. Some will have masking requirements, some will not, some will, you know, if you’ve been vaccinated, so there’s always variables in place.”

This is why Alberts said it’s important to have an evacuation plan ahead of time for your family.

“If we had intent on evacuating because we’re in an evacuation zone, where are we’re going to go? Is it going to be at a local shelter? Is it going to be at a shelter in another area of the state or is it going to be a shelter in another state?” Alberts said. “Any time you look to expand your scope, you know, if you go outside your local area, you have more to contend with, you’re going to have other masking mandates, social distancing, you know, cleanliness standards.”

Alberts recommends checking with your county emergency management office to see what their COVID-19 protocols will be for shelters. He also warns, the beginning of hurricane season with COVID-19 may look very different from the end of the season as more people are vaccinated.

“As we progress later, in hurricane season, they may change again, right, so the beginning June 1, and the protocols will probably look very different to near the end and October, November,” Alberts said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention posted an update ahead of hurricane season, writing the No. 1 thing a person should do is get the COVID-19 vaccine.

“The risk of COVID-19 in a public disaster shelter is lower for fully vaccinated people,” according to the CDC. “However, precautions should still be taken, as transmission risk in these settings is higher and likely increases with the number of unvaccinated people present.”

Even those fully vaccinated in a shelter should continue to follow basic COVID-19 safety protocols including mask wearing, maintaining 6 feet from those outside their family, washing hands frequently and covering coughs and sneezes.

For a full list of recommendations, click here.

The Atlantic hurricane season runs from June 1 through Nov. 30.

Visit now through the end of the season for a list of county-by-county resources and other tips to prepare for a storm.