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Emergency evacuation shelters change operations to adhere to new COVID-19 protocols

Posted at 7:39 PM, May 29, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-29 19:39:15-04

(WTXL) — As people look to evacuate, shelters are changing how they operate in order to stay in line with social distancing during this pandemic.

"We've seen how hurricanes and disasters have impacted our area on such a personal personal level," said Sandi Poreda, a local disaster volunteer with Red Cross.

New COVID-19 protocols for emergency evacuation shelters are changing how the Red Cross and Leon County Emergency Management handle hurricane safety.

This year, smaller shelters with a capacity of 50 people or less will be prioritized over larger ones and evacuees staying there will be monitored for symptoms of COVID-19.

"We are going to follow the latest CDC guidance regarding screening procedures for any shelters that open," said Kevin Peters, the director of Leon County's Emergency Management team.

Everyone entering the shelter will get their temperature checked and shelters will provide separate areas to isolate anyone with symptoms.

Shelter staff and volunteers will also wear masks and PPE.

"There's no way that I'm not going to look for a way to help," said Poreda. "I've got my mask, I've got my gloves and I believe in what they are doing."

The Red Cross already has experience dealing with sheltering during the pandemic after recent Easter tornadoes swept across the southern states.

Sharon Tyler is the executive director of the Capital Area Chapter of the American Red Cross.

"These are unchartered waters and everyone truly is trying to figure out what the best path is to take," Tyler explained.

She says the hardest part is that volunteers are working virtually as much as possible and can't have any physical contact with the people they are helping.

"One of our big things we offer is hope and help and usually the hope is through a hug," Tyler said. "So that's been a real challenge for our volunteers to not be able to give them that physical comfort that you so want to give when someone is hurting and suffering."

It may be a new, more complicated way of doing things for our local disaster services but their mission and dedication to keeping us safe during a hurricane hasn't changed.

It's just evolved and it won't stop because of COVID-19.