Hurricane Laura: What to consider when you evacuate in the time of the COVID-19 pandemic

As Hurricane Laura takes aim at the northern Gulf Coast, cities in Louisiana and Texas have issued evacuation orders in advance of a forecasted landfall.

While evacuating under the best of circumstances is traumatic, worrying about finding shelter when there is a global pandemic adds another level of stress.

If you find yourself having to evacuate, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offer these tips to consider:

Prepare to shelter

  • If you may need to evacuate, prepare a “go kit” with personal items you cannot do without during an emergency. Include items that can help protect you and others from COVID-19, such as hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol, bar or liquid soap, disinfectant wipes (if available) and two masks for each person. Masks should not be used by children under the age of 2. They also should not be used by people having trouble breathing, or who are unconscious, incapacitated or unable to remove the mask without assistance.
  • Know a safe place to shelter and have several ways to receive weather alerts, such as National Weather Service cell phone alertsexternal icon, NOAA Weather Radioexternal icon, or (@NWS) Twitter alerts.
  • Find out if your local public shelter is open, in case you need to evacuate your home and go there. Your shelter location may be different this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Follow guidance from your local public health or emergency management officials on when and where to shelter.
  • Make a plan and prepare a disaster kit for your pets. Find out if your disaster shelter will accept pets. Typically, when shelters accommodate pets, the pets are housed in a separate area from people.
  • Follow safety precautions when using transportation to evacuate. If you have to travel away from your community to evacuate, follow safety precautions for travelers to protect yourself and others from COVID-19.

Protect yourself and others while in a public shelter

  • Practice social distancing. Stay at least 6 feet from other people outside of your household.
  • Follow CDC COVID-19 preventive actions—wash your hands often, cover coughs and sneezes and follow shelter policies for wearing masks. Avoid sharing food and drink with anyone if possible.
  • Follow disaster shelter policies and procedures designed to protect everyone in the shelter, especially those who are at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19, including older adults and people of any age who have serious underlying medical conditions.
  • Avoid touching high-touch surfaces, such as handrails, as much as possible. Wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use hand sanitizers with at least 60% alcohol immediately after you touch these surfaces.
  • Keep your living area in the shelter clean and disinfect frequently-touched items such as toys, cellphones and other electronics.
  • If you feel sick when you arrive at the shelter or start to feel sick while sheltering, tell shelter staff immediately.

Help your children stay safe while in a public shelter

  • Teach and reinforce everyday preventive actions for keeping children healthy.
  • Make sure children aged 2 and older wear masks. Masks should not be used by children under the age of 2. They also should not be used by people having trouble breathing, or who are unconscious, incapacitated, or unable to remove the mask without assistance.
  • Be a good role model—if you wash your hands often, your children are more likely to do the same.
  • Help your children stay at least 6 feet away from anyone who is not in your household.
  • Watch your child for any signs of illness and tell shelter staff if your child may be ill.
  • Try to deal with the disaster calmly and confidently, as this can provide the best support for your children. Help children cope with emergencies.

Staying with friends or family

If you will be staying with friends or family outside your household to evacuate from the storm:

  • Talk to the people you plan to stay with about how you can all best protect yourselves from COVID-19.
  • Consider if either of your households has someone who is at higher risk of developing severe illness from COVID-19, including older adults or people of any age who have underlying medical conditions. Make sure everyone knows what they can do to keep them safe from COVID-19.
  • Follow everyday preventive actions, including covering coughs and sneezes, washing your hands often and avoiding touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands. Consider taking extra precautions for people living in close quarters.
  • Know what to do if someone in your family or in the household you are staying with becomes sick with COVID-19. Take steps to keep your pets safe.

Stay safe after a hurricane

In addition to following guidance for staying safe and healthy after a hurricane, note that:

  • You should continue to follow preventive actions to protect yourself and others from COVID-19, like washing your hands and wearing a mask during cleanup or when returning home.
  • It may take longer than usual to restore power and water if they are out. Take steps to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning if you use a generator.
  • If you are injured or ill, contact your medical provider for treatment recommendations. Keep wounds clean to prevent infection. Remember, accessing medical care may be more difficult than usual during the pandemic.
  • Dealing with disasters can cause stress and strong emotions, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. It is natural to feel anxiety, grief and worry. Coping with these feelings and getting help when you need it will help you, your family, and your community recover.
  • People with preexisting mental health conditions should continue with their treatment and be aware of new or worsening symptoms. Additional information can be found at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administrationexternal icon page.
  • After a hurricane, it’s not unusual for rats, mice and other pests to try to get into your home or building. Be aware that with restaurant and commercial closures related to COVID-19, there are already reports of increased rodent activity as they try to seek other sources of food. Follow recommendations for keeping pests out of your home.

For more information

CDC: Coronavirus Disease 2019

CDC: Prepare your health for the 2020 hurricane season

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