Vulnerable Populations and Planning Considerations, May 27, 2020, Workshop Conducted Virtually
This workshop shed light on the challenges and importance of adapting current hurricane season planning. Coexisting with COVID-19 will pose even more challenges for hurricane season responses. Suggested adaptations include identifying further shelter spaces to reduce the numbers of evacuees per building (for required social distancing), create isolation spaces to protect populations vulnerable to COVID-19, and quarantine those who are symptomatic. Some strategies being considered include modifying existing shelters (e.g. schools, by using classrooms) and using hotels, dormitories, and other large vacant spaces (e.g., stores and convention centers).
Along with identifying new shelter options comes modifying procedures for screening, triage, and enforcing social distancing and other prevention methods in shelters, as well as transportation considerations. The additional burdens on the population due to COVID-19— economic, psychological, social, health, and workforce—create an even greater need for collaboration between nonprofit social service organizations and public health agencies. The current burden of COVID-19 on the public health, emergency, healthcare, and volunteer workforce is also a concern; strategies to protect workers from COVID-19 and to identify additional staff are being considered. Effective public messaging will also be crucial moving forward.
Workshop participants identified many subpopulations who would be considered vulnerable in this compound hurricane-pandemic scenario. The more typical vulnerable populations still exist based on the impacts of a hurricane: individuals in evacuation zones with inadequate or unsafe housing and low incomes; with disabilities or sensory impairments, mental health, or substance dependence; and who experience social bias or racism, domestic violence, and other exploitation. These vulnerable populations are compounded by those who are vulnerable to COVID-19 complications, including immunosuppressed individuals, the elderly, pregnant women, infants, and others with chronic conditions such as asthma or COPD.
Additional considerations will need to be made for mixed-age families, as well as caregivers and family members of the aforementioned vulnerable groups if isolation is a strategy. General approaches being considered are creating vulnerable population registries and pre-registration for all evacuees to identify sheltering needs upfront and triaging to different shelter types based on those identified needs. However, it was brought up that any evacuee could be considered at risk for, or a carrier of, COVID-19; plans will have to factor that in.
CONVERGE NSF Working Group; Behr, Joshua G.; Yusuf, Wie; Marshall, Jennifer; and Dunn, Elizabeth, "Workshop #1: Vulnerable Populations & Planning Considerations for the 2020 Hurricane Season: After Action Report (AAR)" (2020). Presentations, Lectures, Posters, Reports. 20.