Texas evacuates residents for Hurricane Laura as coronavirus poses new challenges

Evacuees stroll to board buses Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2020, in Galveston, Texas. The evacuees are being taken to Austin, Texas, as Hurricane Laura heads towards the Gulf Coast.

David J. Phillip | AP

The coronavirus pandemic has thrown a new twist on emergency preparedness in Texas as officers put together for Hurricane Laura to make landfall as quickly as Wednesday. 

The state is attempting to evacuate residents in high-risk areas in a socially distanced method, Gov. Greg Abbott mentioned at a information briefing on Tuesday. Officials are encouraging evacuees to go for lodges the place they’ll self-isolate as an alternative of doubtless crowded evacuation facilities. The state can also be offering protecting tools, such as masks, as nicely as Covid-19 testing companies at shelter places.

“We are responding to Hurricane Laura while also responding to a pandemic,” Abbott mentioned. “And we are not taking our eye off of what needs to be done to adequately respond to the pandemic, so several things are being done as we assist those who are evacuating that’s different from what has been done in the past.”

Hundreds of hundreds of Texas residents have been instructed to evacuate the cities of Galveston and Port Arthur, Abbott mentioned, as nicely as Jasper, Jefferson, Newton and Orange counties. Still others have been instructed to flee in components of southwestern Louisiana, which can also be anticipated to be struck by the hurricane. Abbott mentioned extra evacuation notices may come.

The storm is projected to turn out to be a Category three hurricane earlier than it makes landfall, Abbott mentioned, including that “it could increase to be a Category 4 hurricane.”

He mentioned officers are taking steps to stop the unfold of Covid-19 amongst evacuees through the storm. The coronavirus unfold quickly all through Texas, particularly the Houston space, earlier this summer time. It has contaminated greater than 580,300 individuals and killed at the very least 11,300 individuals within the state, in accordance with the state’s division of well being.

But the state has made substantial progress in bringing the outbreak beneath management with newly identified instances per day down from a median of about 10,400 on July 22 to about 5,500, in accordance with information compiled by Johns Hopkins University. 

“Bottom line is this, and that is the state and local governments are fully aware that they are dealing with a pandemic while they’re responding to Hurricane Laura, and they’re taking all necessary protocols to make sure that they reduce the spread of Covid-19,” he mentioned. “Just because a hurricane is coming to Texas does not mean Covid-19 either has or is going to leave Texas. Covid-19 is going to be in Texas throughout the course of the hurricane.”

Abbott mentioned the state has 200 buses with one other 200 ordered that will likely be used to help evacuees, including that the state ordered “so many buses” in order that evacuees can appropriately distance from each other. Nim Kidd, chief of the Texas Division of Emergency Management, added that the buses will likely be outfitted with disinfectant tools.

Kidd added that protecting tools and Covid-19 testing groups will likely be despatched to sheltering places “as soon as practical.” He mentioned, nevertheless, that staying in a lodge or motel room is the “safest place for families to be.”

When Hurricane Isaias brushed the coast of Florida earlier this month, the state suspended Covid-19 testing in some communities, mentioned Cindy Prins, an epidemiologist on the University of Florida. She mentioned that meant decreased monitoring of the virus in some communities and the state struggled to ramp testing again as much as pre-hurricane ranges.

She added that when individuals are evacuating from a hurricane, individuals are enthusiastic about “their critical needs and not necessarily going to have Covid foremost in your mind.”

“We worry, of course, about people evacuating into group settings, trying to keep them safe if they’re having to go to a shelter,” she mentioned. “I know that there’s been a lot of time to encourage people to go to hotels instead, but that’s not always very easy or feasible.”

Hurricane Laura is the second hurricane to strike Texas for the reason that coronavirus pandemic started. Hurricane Hanna made landfall in South Texas as a Category 1 hurricane in late July. Catherine Troisi, an infectious illness epidemiologist at UTHealth School of Public Health in Houston, mentioned Laura is more likely to trigger some disruption to the state’s coronavirus response, such as a drop in testing that may masks the place the virus was spreading. 

“Part of the drop in testing that we saw a couple of weeks ago may have been due to Hurricane Hanna,” she mentioned. “That is a big concern about testing now.”

Beyond preserving testing efforts robust, she mentioned, sheltering individuals safely from the storm and from Covid presents a serious problem for state officers.

“If you have to shelter people, how do you keep them safe during a pandemic?” she requested. “It’s enough of a challenge in regular times.”

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