HOUSTON – It’s the first day of hurricane season and forecasters are predicting it’s going to be a busy one. We’ve already had two named storms before the season even started, and now there’s a tropical depression near the Yucatan Peninsula that could get a name this week. And planning for an active season is even more challenging during a pandemic.
LATEST UPDATES: Tropical Depression Three forms in the Bay of Campeche
Memories of Harvey
It’s been nearly three years since Hurricane Harvey’s rain flooded the Houston area and forced tens of thousands of people from their homes. The images of the devastation and the rescues that went on for days are still fresh in many people’s minds. Shelters were packed to capacity with people spending days, even weeks, next to strangers who’d suffered a similar fate.
“Everything that was important for hurricane season last year is important now,” says Francisco Sanchez with the Harris County Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. “But when you throw COVID in, our successful response depends on what people are doing for social distancing, for making sure they sanitize, wash their hands and wear a face covering,” he says.
Planning for tropical weather
Sanchez says his team is focused on four things in preparing for tropical weather during a pandemic: mass evacuations, mass sheltering, mass transportation and recovery. The key message is only people who are specifically told to evacuate should evacuate. People forced into shelters can expect aggressive screenings, including questions about recent health and travel, and frequent temperature checks. And there will be COVID-only facilities to keep those infected from those who are healthy.