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Coronavirus pandemic throws wrench in hurricane season preparations

This year's hurricane season will be a little different than in years past.

HOUSTON — The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is adding extra stress to the 2020 hurricane season, which is predicted to be very busy.

Emergency management leaders in Texas' largest city and county said Monday they are prepared to handle two crises.

“It’s not new to us,” said Francisco Sanchez, Deputy Emergency Management Coordinator at the Harris County Office of Homeland Security & Emergency Management. “We’ve dealt with hurricane season before and ebola and H1N1 and zika, so we’re used to this.”

Still, Sanchez says COVID-19 is forcing agencies at all levels to look more closely at parts of their response that bring large numbers of people together.

He says evacuations will be based on storm surge threat and staggered to let people closer to the coast leave first.

“(We’ll be) making sure that we issue those evacuation orders in plenty of time, and we will certainly be making sure that in social distancing we account for that timeline,” Sanchez said.

Harris County is also working with nonprofit organizations to secure enough shelter space to keep people safely spread out.

“There will be a screening process,” said Nickea Bradley, Emergency Management Coordinator for the Houston Office of Emergency Management. “We’re taking temperatures. We’re asking some initial questions of ‘Have you been exposed? Are you feeling well?’”

She says anyone who has been exposed or is sick will be isolated while still being sheltered. Bradley says social distancing measures will also cover high-water rescues.

“As soon as possible, (we will) get the face mask, be able to do screenings like check temperatures, and make sure that everyone stays safe,” she said.

People who are unable to evacuate if ordered can call 211 to register for transportation help.

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