Chatham County prepares for hurricane season amid COVID-19

Pittsboro, NC – As Chatham County prepares for the height of hurricane season, it is also taking measures to reduce the possible spread of COVID-19 to ensure residents remain safe from incoming storms and the virus. Chatham County residents are also encouraged to plan ahead by making an emergency plan, building a kit (“go bag”) and preparing for power outages that could last for several days.

photo by Michael Jin

“This hurricane season brings us additional challenges that are quite unprecedented. Not only is an above-normal to extremely active season predicted, but we continue to respond to the coronavirus and must take necessary precautions in our emergency planning,” said Chatham County Emergency Management Director Steve Newton. “Due to COVID-19 still being present in our community, residents are advised to utilize an emergency shelter as a last resort and should make plans in advance to stay with a family member, friend or other safe place.”

Emergency Shelter Plans

Depending on forecasted impact, emergency management officials may recommend Sheltering in Place instead of opening a disaster shelter. Chatham County will not open a pre-landfall shelter, before a storm hits, except under imminent direct threat of an extreme event (forecast of direct, sustained, significant impact less than 24 hours out). If congregate sheltering is required, Chatham County’s strategy will be to open one facility. A second facility will be considered if the first shelter reaches 75% of its COVID-19 capacity. Chatham County may pre-position, and possibly deploy equipment and supplies in to one or more designated shelter facilities – but keep the facilities closed until impact and demand is known.

Members of the public should exercise additional caution when traveling to a shelter as trees and power lines may have fallen, and roads may be flooded. Residents should obey road closed signs and follow directional signs when checking in to a shelter.

Emergency Shelter Safety Precautions

Shelter(s) open in Chatham County will abide by strict guidelines to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
All clients, staff and volunteers are required to wear face coverings and physical distance will be monitored and enforced among individuals not in the same household. Each client will have their temperature checked and must complete a questionnaire related to the coronavirus; those who are confirmed positive or are symptomatic must remain isolated from other shelter clients. The use of cots will be limited to those clients with medical issues, and six feet of distance must be maintained from individuals not in the same household. Meals and snacks will likely be individually packaged, such as boxed or bag lunches, heater meals, and/or Meals-Ready-To-Eat (MRE). Cleanliness will be key at Chatham County emergency shelters. Facilities will be cleaned often, and staff and clients must wash their hands and use hand sanitizer often.

Make an Emergency Plan and Kit

Residents are advised to make an emergency plan and create a kit now. An emergency kit should include the following items:

*        Water (1 gallon/person for 3-7 days)
*        Food (non-perishable)
*        Cell phone and charger
*        Blanket and pillow
*        Seasonal changes of clothes and sturdy shoes
*        Prescription drugs and first aid kit
*        Toiletries
*        Flashlight and extra batteries
*        NOAA weather radio
*        Cash
*        Important documents

Families with infants or pets should include food, medication and other necessary items for them.

“As we approach the height of hurricane season, it’s critical more than ever this year that Chatham County residents plan ahead for their families and not wait until a major storm is on its path toward North Carolina with potential impacts on our community,” added Newton.

For more information on preparing for hurricane season during COVID-19, residents are encouraged to visit chathamnc.org/ready-chatham . When the Emergency Operations Center is activated, residents with questions may call the EOC at 919-545-8181.