The Sarasota Journal

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Hurricane season starts as pandemic lingers

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SARASOTA COUNTY –– The 2020 hurricane season begins tomorrow, June 1, and with an ongoing pandemic and an active season predicted, residents could face a difficult choice if a storm threatens the area.

That choice: ride the storm out at home or evacuate to a shelter where someone asymptomatic with COVID-19 could be present.

As to the latter choice Sarasota County Emergency Management Chief Ed McCrane said staying at a county evacuation center should be a “last resort.”

Unlike prior years, space at the county’s 11 evacuation centers will be limited as McCrane plans to implement social distancing guidelines recommended by the CDC meaning each evacuee will have more space than usual.

Screenings, use of masks and increased sanitation will be in place as well, McCrane indicated.

Complicating the evacuation picture for Sarasota is Charlotte County, which has only four shelters due to its low-lying terrain. Typically, when an evacuation order is issued by Charlotte officials, its residents seek shelter in Sarasota County.

Recognizing the impact a major storm could have on Florida, state emergency management officials began considering plans to hire ride-sharing companies to transport people to shelter and reserving blocks of hotel rooms to serve an evacuation.

McCrane acknowledged that using hotels is an option.

“Florida counties are working with Florida Department of Emergency Management, who are also working with FEMA, to look at the possibility of using hotel rooms in areas where shelter space is limited,” McCrane said. “This comes with a large cost and the logistics and funding for this by the state & FEMA is still being examined.”

As he has over the past couple of years, McCrane added that staying at home could be a perfectly safe solution for some residents.

“Residents can shelter at home if the home was built after 2002, is outside of the evacuation level being called and has hurricane shutters, including window and door coverings,” McCrane said.

He added, “If staying at their home is not an option, consider sheltering with friends or family in a safe home outside of the evacuation area. It is recommended to practice social distancing, sanitation and good hygiene.”

2020 could end up being one for the history books between the pandemic and the above-average predictions.

Already this year, before the official start of hurricane season two storms, Arthur and Bertha, have formed.

NOAA’s (National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration) Climate Prediction Center has forecasted 13-19 named storms this season with 6-10 becoming hurricanes. Of those, the center predicts 3-6 becoming major hurricanes (Categories 3, 4 or 5).

The hurricane season ends Nov. 30.

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Warren Richardson
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