Storm season opens against COVID-19 backdrop

| 01/06/2020 | 5 Comments
Cayman News Service
HCCI Director Danielle Coleman

(CNS): The weather in the Atlantic and the Caribbean Sea was quiet Monday, as the 2020 hurricane season began against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic. The National Emergency Operations Centre team, already deployed as a result of the COVID-19 health crisis, has been simultaneously preparing for a hurricane season that promises to be relatively active at a time when the government is trying desperately hard to keep people apart and prevent this coronavirus getting a grip in the community.

Following a 7.7 magnitude earthquake, two major landfill fires and the ongoing management of COVID-19, the NEOC has been mostly active since the beginning of the year. And it is likely to remain the main coordinating body for the rest of 2020 to manage this hurricane season, the continued COVID-19 and whatever else may come our way.

But managing hurricane shelters this summer will not be business as usual, as families will need to be kept six feet apart, continue to wear masks and have constant access to hand washing facilities or sanitizer in addition to the normal shelter requirements.

Over the last few weeks, Danielle Coleman, the director of Hazard Management Cayman Islands and a key figure on the NEOC, has on several occasions spoken about the challenges they face preparing for hurricane season. She has also noted the need to find much more shelter space in order to comply with social distancing requirements and still offer a safe haven those who cannot remain in their homes.

Grand Cayman has always been short on suitable hurricane spaces, only having the capacity to accommodate about 8% of the population. Coleman recently told CIGTV in an interview that the NEOC was now seeking to triple the amount of space available.

The need to find more shelter space is a major priority, but Coleman has also noted a number of other issues that have to be considered, such as preparations, supply-chains, shortages of equipment and airlift, all of which have been complicated by the presence of the virus here and around the world.

Cayman and the region will be supported by the British Navy vessel, RFA Argus, which has its own helicopters and will be in the Caribbean for the entire season. The British military representatives that have been deployed here are now out of quarantine and working with the NEOC to prepare for the season.

But the prospect of a busy hurricane season has also been keeping the premier awake. He recently stated at a COVID-19 press briefing that the challenges of trying to run shelters with physical-distancing requirements with a virus running rampant was giving him nightmares.

However, the community has rallied, and despite the increased risks this year, more 190 people have volunteered to be shelter managers this season, a significant increase on previous years.

Many of those volunteers recently met via Zoom, when they were informed about what to expect in the job, which may involve manning shelters for more than just hurricanes. Already this year, shelters have been opened to accommodate people evacuated from their homes because of a particularly nasty dump fire in February.

But enforcing social distancing and other protocols relating to COVID-19 will make the work more difficult for shelter wardens, regardless of the emergency. In addition, they may have to create separate areas for those in quarantine or are positive for the virus. The problems this would create would be compounded by the fact that the elderly, already the most vulnerable to COVID-19, will be given priority for shelter provision.

The shelters will be implementing a screening protocol for those entering the shelters, and 25 digital thermometers have been ordered to assess health status of all those seeking shelter, even though people who are asymptomatic can still spread the virus and Chief Medical Officer Dr John Lee has said that taking temperatures is of little use in the detection of COVID-19.

While personal protective equipment, such as masks, gloves and goggles, have been ordered for shelter staff, those coming to the shelter will need to bring in all their own PPE as well as food for their stay.

“Shelter managers are an invaluable asset to have during any hurricane seasons,” Coleman said recently. “This year these individuals will be responsible for managing a shelter with the additional requirements brought on by the current pandemic.

“We are extremely thankful to the number of community-minded people who have registered, undertaken the training and are ready for activation should we need to open shelters in 2020,” she added.

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Category: Science & Nature, Weather

Comments (5)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    And still we have no proper facilities in the fastest growing district.

  2. Anonymous says:

    5.22 pm ” incompetent government” Really? You only wish your own was as competent.Stop the hating.

  3. Anonymous says:

    I feel sorry for anyone still trapped on the island with that incompetent government as the backstop to a bad storm season. They’re just not equipped to deal with it, or capable of formulating a plan. Even after Ivan, Cayman doesn’t seem to have learned. It’s a tragedy looking for a place to happen.

    • TrainLocalSuccessionPlanning says:

      They have retired or pushed out all the older folks with the knowledge and experience. They are depending on RFA Argus and crew. That’s not how it works.

    • Anonymous says:

      The CIG is irrelevant during a hurricane and after during the looting and martial law. Counting on any functional gov’t is not part of any serious plan.

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