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  • Coronavirus changing how Florida preparing for hurricane season, counties may use hotels as shelters

    Coronavirus pandemic changing the way Florida is preparing for hurricane season

    Florida leaders face new obstacle in preparing for hurricane season.

    With the start of what could be an active hurricane season just weeks away, the state of Florida is preparing how to respond to any future storms while taking the coronavirus pandemic into account.

    Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis said at a press conference this month that COVID-19 will be around in some form during hurricane season, and the state needs to rethink how to provide shelter for thousands who may need to evacuate if any storms threaten the state.

    “This virus really thrives and transmits when you have close sustained contact with people inside an enclosed environment,” DeSantis said at a news conference in Sarasota. “As you're looking at sheltering for a hurricane, you have to keep that in mind. If you pile people into a place, under normal circumstances that may be fine, but that would potentially allow the virus to really spread if somebody is, in fact, infected.”

    State and local officials have been retooling their plans for how to handle evacuations and sheltering, including adding facemasks to the stockpile of storm supplies.

    Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said the state needs to rethink how to provide shelter for evacuees without spreading coronavirus. (FOX13)

    Florida emergency management Director Jared Moskowitz said the state is working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) on changes for 2020 that may include shelters that only accept people infected with the virus or orders for people to shelter in place depending on the strength of the building and the power of the storm.

    “We're going to do more non-congregate sheltering instead of mass congregate sheltering," he said

    On the county level, officials said they may open up more shelters in order for people to be socially-distant. Brevard County Emergency Management spokesman Don Walker told FOX35 on Friday they are considering using classrooms and hotels to make it safer and test people beforehand.

    "Such as taking peoples' temperatures or even doing rapid tests, COVID-19 rapid tests, before people even enter our shelters," Walker said.

    On Florida's Gulf Coast, officials in Hillsborough County may turn to hotels instead of housing people in close quarters in a school gym.

    "Our shelters are our lifeboats, right?  So, you know, the only difference is that you may have some people that may be ill and how do you take care of those old people?" Iñaki Rezola with the Hillsborough County Fire Rescue Office of Emergency Management told FOX13.

    Hillsborough County is operating two quarantine and isolation hotels, which could be turned into shelters.

    Officials in Florida are considering using hotels used to isolated coronavirus patients for shelters during hurricane season. (FOX13)

    While state officials have said Florida will stockpile personal protective equipment in preparation for the storm season, including 10 million masks, local officials are urging residents to be prepared with their own personal protective equipment.

    "Bring a mask, you know, bring hand sanitizer... keep yourself safe while you're looking at your plan," Pinellas County Administrator Barry Burton told FOX13.

    What to know about the approaching Atlantic hurricane season. (Fox News)

    As hurricane season nears, officials stress that residents should know their storm plan, including making sure to have an emergency kit ready to go before the season officially begins.

    The names for the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season. (Fox News)

    Besides having food, water, flashlights, batteries, a weather radio, and any necessary medications, storm kits this year should also include masks and hand sanitizer.

    Walker told FOX35 that since supplies are already limited at stores, residents should start stocking up now.

    "You don’t have to buy it all at once," he said Friday. "Start buying it in chunks and doses now, so when the time comes you’ve got what you need to sustain you through that emergency."

    Over the past month, the Department of Homeland Security has built a new crisis coordination response center before hurricane season begins. The facility, called "The Surge," is where 150 officials will oversee hurricane search, rescue and evacuation operations, all while working to keep Americans safe from contracting coronavirus.

    On average, 12 tropical storms – six of which become hurricanes – form over the Atlantic OceanCaribbean Sea or the Gulf of Mexico during hurricane season, according to the National Weather Service.

    The 2020 Atlantic Hurricane Season runs from June 1 to Nov. 30 and will include the names: Arthur, Bertha, Cristobal, Dolly, Edouard, Fay, Gonzalo, Hanna, Isaias, Josephine, Kyle, Laura, Marco, Nana, Omar, Paulette, Rene, Sally, Teddy, Vicky and Wilfred.

    The Associated Press contributed to this report.