Area safe rooms to stay open as COVID-19 arrives with tornado season
Joplin Globe (MO)
Mar. 19--The new coronavirus pandemic could complicate community safe room operations during the approaching tornado season.
The National Weather Service in Springfield was forecasting hazardous weather moving into the Joplin area overnight Wednesday with wind gusts in excess of 50 mph and potentially severe thunderstorms with a limited risk of tornadoes Thursday and again on Tuesday. The threat arrives on the heels of announcements closing schools in several local school districts an effort to minimize the impact of COVID-19.
Joplin-area school officials said Wednesday that community safe rooms located on school campuses will remain available to the public despite the closing of Joplin's public schools.
"Right now, we have plans for them to be open if (the weather) necessitates it," Kerry Sachetta, assistant superintendent of operations for the Joplin School District, told the Globe.
He said district administrators planned to meet with school principals Wednesday to discuss what measures may be taken with safe room operations to meet the general guidelines for dealing with COVID-19 that have been issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the state of Missouri.
"We hope anyone who self-quarantines would be able to make preparations to be in a location that would be safe for them and not be in the general population," Sachetta said. "We hope that, but we can't guarantee it."
Severe weather and tornadoes could force significant numbers of the public to seek shelter in the safe rooms, numbers likely in excess of health officials' recommendations that assemblies during the pandemic be limited to 50 or fewer people and the Trump administration's advisory to limit social gatherings to 10 or fewer.
"We just want everyone to know we're open for them to come in," Sachetta said. "We're not going to turn anyone away."
He said school officials recognize that the more immediate danger of severe weather and tornadoes could force the acceptance of numbers at safe rooms in excess of pandemic-generated recommendations. The shelters have sufficient space to accommodate a large number of people and still maintain the recommended social distancing of individuals, he said.
Carl Junction and Webb City school districts also have made the decision to close their schools due to COVID-19. But their safe rooms will remain open, school officials told the Globe.
Phil Cook, superintendent of the Carl Junction School District, discussed the matter with his administrative team Wednesday morning. The district has a single safe room at the high school. The city operates a second safe room at the Carl Junction police station.
"It will be open to the public," Cook said of the high school's shelter.
He said Assistant Superintendent David Pyle is working on a plan for operating shelter in light of the challenges presented by COVID-19. He believes that plan should be in place within the next couple of days.
Of seven safe rooms on Webb City School District campuses, three were constructed to serve just their schools and will not be open to the public. But four will remain open to the community, including the district's largest one at Webb City High School. The others are at the Madge T. James Kindergarten Center, Carterville Elementary School, and the Bess and Harry Truman Safe Room in Oronogo.
Tony Rossetti, the Webb City superintendent, said people need the option of seeking shelter in an approved structure during foul weather.
He said each of the district's safe rooms have restrooms where people will be able to wash their hands and take other steps to ensure good hygiene during their stay. He said shelter operators will also be reminding them of the need to maintain a safe distance from each other while in the safe room.
"More than likely, there will be enough space for people to keep away from one another," Rossetti said.
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