Document Type


Publication Date



21 pp.

Conference Name

Health: Infectious Disease Hazard Control Principles and Continuity of Health Care, May 29, 2020, Workshop Was Offered Virtually


Participants in the CONVERGE NSF Working Group Workshop 2 (Health) breakout sessions identified that along with populations traditionally considered vulnerable during hurricane season (e.g., special-needs evacuees and the elderly), there will be new vulnerable populations based on their heightened risks from exposure to COVID-19. There is also overlap between these groups of vulnerable evacuees, including individuals with physical, intellectual or developmental disabilities; those with immunodeficiency, chronic, acute, or infectious illnesses; pregnant women and infants; and immigrants, non-English speakers, and other socially vulnerable groups.

This indicates a potentially greater number of special-needs evacuees at shelters. Simultaneously, fear of contracting COVID-19, particularly in special-needs populations, will likely worsen the challenges of last-minute arrivals at shelters. There were several public messaging issues related to health that were raised during the breakout session, including:

1. Increasing public awareness around using shelters as a refuge of last resort especially because of the COVID-19 risks of congregate facilities without discouraging people from seeking shelter if they need it.

2. Ensuring that those who are potentially sick understand that some shelters do not have medical treatment, to ensure that they do not make decisions to relocate to a shelter based on medical needs.

3. Alerting the public of their potential ability to obtain additional medical supplies (e.g., longer prescription allowances) when there is an advanced emergency declaration.

4. Conducting pre-disaster: Outreach to community partners for practice drills.

5. Increasing public awareness about shelter compliance requirements to prevent and slow infectious disease spread (e.g., expectations for wearing masks and physically distancing while in the facility or no in-and-out privileges), while avoiding a dampening effect on using shelters where they are the best option for an evacuee.

Scarcity continues to be an issue for many shelter needs, and vulnerable populations will need additional space, staff, medications, supplies, and medical assistance. Higher numbers of evacuees are also uninsured or underinsured. In addition, evacuees and staff alike are likely to experience additional psychological strain due to managing a storm event under conditions associated with the current pandemic. Based on these assessments, early preparation has greater urgency—obtaining extra space, staff, and supplies should be ongoing and already in process.

Several participants described reaching out to other non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to access additional assistance for individuals in vulnerable groups (e.g., AARP for the elderly or USAA for military or military retirees); establishing those contacts in the pre-event phases was recommended. Advance identification of vulnerable individuals to engage in social work to create evacuation plans for them before an emergency was also advised. Many experts have advised increased use of telehealth (e.g., for pregnant mothers). Pre-event dissemination of recommendations for those at greater risk from contracting the COVID-19 and encouraging sheltering with family or friends over evacuating to a congregate shelter


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