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State, hospitals get ready for predicted busy hurricane season amid virus concerns

The Atlantic basin has recorded two named storms this year and we aren’t even into hurricane season – but it starts Monday and now is the time to prepare.

We’ve seen what hurricanes like Irma can do to our area, and it should serve as a reminder of what could happen in the coming months. That’s why the state and hospitals are preparing now.

Before Hurricane Irma in 2017, Lee Health was ready by updating people through its website and offering telehealth services. This year, preparation is going to look a lot different.

If a hurricane sweeps our area, Lee Health also has to protect everyone from COVID-19.

CEO Larry Antonucci said they’re still working on answering questions unique to this coming hurricane season.

“Our command center has been up for 78 days. We have our centralized leadership right here so we can respond throughout the system in a quick way,” Antonucci said.

A conference room was converted to Lee Health’s command center to react to COVID-19, but it will double as hurricane headquarters if needed.

They’ll also have to assume everyone has the coronavirus in order to keep everyone safe.

“I think that you’re going to have the same precautions [in dealing with hurricanes]. In other words, everyone will need to be masked just like we’re doing that now. So you’re right, you have to assume because such a large percentage of COVID patients do not have any symptoms, you have to assume that anybody could be carrying the virus,” Antonucci said.

Social distancing rules will be in effect, meaning very few visitors will be allowed.

Antonucci said when Irma approached, the system housed not only staff, but their families and pets. That will be different this year.

“We’re not going to be housing 8,000 people in the system as we did in the past, so we’re only going to be housing the folks that are working in the hospital.”

Jared Moskowitz, the state director of emergency management, had this advice: “If your house is new construction, it’s built to code, and we get a Category 1 or Category 2 storm, perhaps they’ll decide the safest place for you to be is in your home.”

Depending on the size and strength of a storm, state and local emergency managers may decide a “shelter in place” order is safer than evacuating.

The state said it has set aside millions of masks and gloves for hurricane season. It also will likely put caps on how many people will be allowed into shelters and is considering using classrooms in schools or hotel rooms as places for evacuees to stay.

Reporter:Morgan Rynor
Writer:Jackie Winchester
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