Just when it seemed like 2020 couldn’t get any worse, the storms showed up.
As Tropical Storm Isaias lashed Florida with winds and threatened the Carolinas, federal and state officials said they’re bracing for a worse-than-usual battery of storms as hurricane season collides with a deadly pandemic.
Forecasters are predicting up to 20 named storms this season compared to a yearly average of about 12. Gonzalo and Hanna were the earliest seventh and eighth named storms on record, respectively.
Governors and federal directors are adjusting accordingly, safeguarding drugs and supplies and setting up shelters that allow for physical distancing to avoid spreading the coronavirus.
Isaias tracked along the east coast of Florida late Sunday, with tropical storm winds and storm surges, and was set to creep up the Carolinas late Monday and up the eastern seaboard the rest of the week.
The storm is blowing through at a rough time for Florida, which posted several single-day highs for COVID-19 deaths last week.
Gov. Ron DeSantis said his storm-prep team set aside thousands of thermometers and millions of units of masks, gloves and other personal protective equipment for the hurricane season. Every nursing home, including ones exclusively for coronavirus-positive residents, is equipped with a generator, he said.
On the downside, the state had to close 43 COVID-19 testing sites in the path of the storm. The sites are outdoors in tents, so high winds would pose a risk.
“If it were to get 40-, 50 mile-per-hour winds, it would just collapse, so safety is paramount for that,” Mr. DeSantis said as the storm approached Friday.
Experts say battling storm season during a pandemic presents a series of challenges.
“The first involves evacuation plans. People may alter their typical evacuation strategy if traveling or staying in a public shelter is viewed as risky due to COVID-19,” said Paul Miller, an assistant professor oceanography and coastal sciences at Louisiana State University.
There is also the risk that the mass movement of people from coastal areas with COVID-19 spikes could create a new problem farther inland.
“We’re recommending and working with the state to establish shelters that would be non-congregate places for sheltering in place,” Health Secretary Alex M. Azar II said during a Friday roundtable with Mr. Trump and Mr. DeSantis in Tampa.
If someone does end up in a setting whether people are gathered together, the secretary added, “it’s the same advice that we give in a non-emergency situation — wear face coverings, practice good physical distance, good personal hygiene.”
Mr. DeSantis issued an executive order that activated agreements with local hotels to provide evacuees with shelter that affords enough privacy to engage in social distancing without congregating in the open.
The order says “all counties are encouraged to accept evacuees from other jurisdictions into their non-congregate shelters to allow for the state of Florida to practice safe social distancing measures.”
Likewise, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said evacuees should plan to stay with family and friends or at a hotel, and not a shelter, because of COVID-19.
“With the right protection and sheltering, we can keep people safe from the storm while at the same time trying to avoid making the pandemic worse,” Mr. Cooper tweeted. “A hurricane during a pandemic is double trouble. But the state has been carefully preparing for this scenario.”
His administration said families should include masks, hand sanitizer, cleaning products and sanitizing wipes in their evacuation kits.
The U.S. can ill-afford missteps or new roadblocks in its fight against the pandemic. It recorded over 1,000 deaths in its daily count on six consecutive days heading into Sunday.
An increase in deaths is typically reported weeks after a surge in infections on the front end. Florida and other Sun Belt states have seen a plateau in their summer surge, though officials are warning of a resurgence in places like Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky.
“What we are seeing today is different from March and April. It is extraordinarily widespread. It’s into the rural as [much as] urban areas,” Dr. Deborah Birx, the U.S. coronavirus response coordinator, told CNN’s “State of the Union.” “And to everybody who lives in a rural area, you are not immune or protected from this virus. And that is why we keep saying, no matter where you live in America, you need to wear a mask and socially distance, do the personal hygiene pieces.”
Mr. Trump says the U.S. isn’t alone in struggling with the virus, pointing to infection surges in places that were once hailed as role-models in how to handle the pandemic.
In Australia, for instance, the city of Melbourne will impose an 8 p.m.-to-5 a.m. curfew, with exceptions for work and caregiving, and limit food-shopping to one person from each household each day.
The southeastern U.S., however, is battling a raging pandemic and storms at the same time.
The National Weather Service tweeted a photo of its Melbourne, Florida, staff “masked-up & socially distant across our operations floor.”
Mr. Miller, at LSU, said besides the obvious challenges for evacuees, the pandemic is causing a drop in air travel that could affect the quality of weather forecasts.
Computer weather modeling and forecasts “benefit greatly from commercial aircraft observations over data-sparse regions,” such as the open ocean, according to the professor.
“This might have implications for hurricane-track and intensity forecasts as the season progresses,” he said.
Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC.