May 4--It sounds like a cruel joke.
While the country remains in the throws of the coronavirus pandemic, it's also National Hurricane Preparedness Week, which means it's time to start thinking about and preparing for the fast-approaching hurricane season, officials said.
And to make matters worse, forecasters expect the Atlantic season, which begins June 1, to be more active than normal.
The National Weather Service recommends those who live in a hurricane-prone area to evaluate their risk, review insurance policies and make a list of supplies they'll need.
In addition to the standard emergency supplies that should be on hand -- such as nonperishable food, water, flashlights and a first aid kit -- the U.S. Department of Homeland Security says items have been added to that list amid the coronavirus pandemic.
These include face coverings, soap, hand sanitizer, disinfecting wipes, and prescription and over-the-counter medications like pain relievers, among other things.
Getting some of those supplies, however, is easier said than done right now.
The coronavirus pandemic has already put a strain on supplies. Hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes and other cleaning supplies, face masks and, of course, toilet paper have been hard to come by for months in some areas.
Additionally, there have been concerns about threats to the U.S. food supply chain, McClatchy New reports.
It's unclear when store shelves will be back fully stocked, but experts tell McClatchy that some items will start to reappear on shelves in "spurts and starts" as they become available.
Even if supplies were available, stocking up on them isn't cheap.
Unemployment levels are unlike anything the country has seen in decades, meaning that, for many, keeping extra non-perishable food and supplies on hand is a financial burden they can't take on, Newsweek reports.
But having supplies isn't the only aspect of hurricane season the pandemic will likely complicate.
Evacuation orders, whether voluntary or mandatory, are often issued in cities and counties expected to be hit hard by a hurricane. But issuing them will be more challenging this year, The News & Observer reports.
"We'll have to really think hard, if we're still in this dynamic of the COVID-19 virus and we have it spread in areas," Edward Conrow, emergency services directors for Brunswick County on the North Carolina coast told The N&O. "It's the risk versus reward. Where do we move people to? ... That may put people in harm's way."
Experts also told The News & Observer there's concern that fewer people will follow evacuation orders as family or friends who normally offer a place to stay may not want visitors due to COVID-19, and other options like hotel rooms may not be doable financially.
That concern extends to public shelters.
"The biggest issue we're facing is the sheltering of people in cramped-in areas," Frank Rollason, director of emergency management for Miami-Dade County told the Miami Herald. "We've told people to stay away from each other for so long that if a hurricane comes and we need to open shelters, we're fearful that they won't come."
Officials are looking at options to safely provide shelter.
Sam Rodgers, the regional disaster program officer for the American Red Cross serving Eastern N.C., told The News & Observer the Red Cross would look into using vacant spaces like hotels and dorms and then explore other options like campgrounds. If that didn't work, individual space for evacuees would be expanded to 110 feet from 40 to 60.
"You're almost cutting your capacity in half, so we're going through the shelters that are available and just getting a sense of what that shelter looks like," Rodgers told The N&O. "Our hope is that we're able to find either non-congregate solutions or alternate solutions before we ever reach that."
For those who do need to seek shelter during a storm, the Department of Homeland Security recommends bringing along cleaning supplies and masks and practicing social distancing as much as possible.
Even if the pandemic is less severe when a hurricane hits, the stress on the system will still be an issue.
"We're layering these on top of the stresses of the system that the pandemic has introduced," Jeffrey Levi, a professor of health policy and management at George Washington University, told Newsweek "Let's hope we're on the other side of social distancing at this time."
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