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How a Hurricane Could Make the Pandemic Worse

August 20, 2020 Leave a comment DRI Admin

With an extremely active hurricane season still underway, a new study warns of how storm evacuations could create a massive spread of COVID-19 in the United States.

South Florida residents are no strangers to facing hurricanes, but this is the first time in modern history they’ve also had to take into account their ability to spread the novel coronavirus. A study conducted by the Union of Concerned Scientists and Columbia University looked at how four south Florida counties currently in the midst of the pandemic – Miami Dade, Palm Beach, Monroe and Broward – would potentially spread COVID-19 if a Category 3 hurricane hit the area.

Running simulations of evacuation routes, based on previous storms like 2018’s Hurricane Irma, the results were grim. “In every scenario we analyzed, hurricane evacuations cause an increase in the number of COVID-19 cases,” said Kristy Dahl, co-author of the report.

For example, the Hurricane Irma evacuation route resulted in 61,000 new COVID-19 cases – 20% more than if nobody evacuated. However another simulation looked at the results if south Florida evacuees went to counties with stricter public health measures and lower COVID-19 transmission rates, and found 9,100 more cases than the baseline.

The purpose of the study, currently under peer review, is to illustrate how important it is for emergency managers to factor virus spread into its current evacuation plans – essentially, to manage two crises at once.

This is already a daunting hurricane season without having to plan for a pandemic spread. NOAA is currently expecting a season that will include 19-25 named storms, of which 7-11 will become hurricanes. This update covers the entire six-month hurricane season, which will end on November 30.