Double Whammy: If a Hurricane Hits Miami During COVID-19

4 min read  |  July 23, 2020  | 
Disponible en Español |

While Miami locals are already facing the challenges and stressors of the COVID-19 pandemic, the National Weather Service predicts an active 2020 hurricane season, which runs through November 30.  

Remember the empty grocery store shelves and the long lines at gas stations that we face every time a hurricane approaches? This year, we can expect even higher demands for essential goods like toilet paper, batteries, and drinking water. And now, we have to add more face masks and hand sanitizer.

In addition to the typical hurricane prep, this year, we need to plan for worst-case scenarios. What if COVID-19 hits you or a member of your household before or after a hurricane hits our area?

“Don’t wait for a Hurricane Watch to begin preparing,” says David Lang, D.O., Clinical Chief and Medical Director of Emergency Medicine at the UHealth Tower. “By the time the Weather Channel is reporting a storm, your chances of finding a well-stocked store are greatly diminished.” 

Avoid the chaos

Gather your typical hurricane prep supplies ahead of time.

  • toilet paper
  • bottled drinking water 
  • flashlights and batteries
  • battery-operated radio for weather updates
  • non-perishable foods
  • pet food
  • first aid kit (including band-aids, wound tape, tweezers, alcohol swabs, antibacterial ointment, and gauze pads)
  • gas-powered generator, extension cords, and carbon monoxide detectors

Don’t forget to stock up on your usual prescription medications (at least a two-week supply). Dr. Lang recommends getting a bottle of acetaminophen (like Tylenol) to reduce fevers and headaches, ibuprofen (like Advil) to relieve muscle aches and pains, and diphenhydramine (like Benadryl) to combat allergic reactions.

You’ll also need extra face masks, a thermometer to measure fever, hand sanitizer, and household cleaners to disinfect surfaces.

In recent years, hurricanes have knocked out power for weeks. When a storm passes, local bank ATMs, gas stations, and supermarkets may not be ready for business. Credit cards may not work without regional power. So, it’s not a bad idea to gas up your car and have cash on hand before a storm approaches. 

 If you may be COVID-19 positive during a storm …

“During and after a hurricane, I hope that no one is alone, whether they are positive for COVID-19 or not,” Dr. Lang says. 

“We all need to continue to follow the CDC’s guidelines of physical distancing, wearing a face mask in public, hand washing, and sanitizing household surfaces. Additional precautions are necessary for those with an active infection, even during a lockdown due to a hurricane warning or an actual storm. If you’re living with a family member or friend with COVID-19, everyone in your household needs to wear a mask at home. The infected person should try to remain separate from the rest of the household and use their own bathroom, if possible. Frequent hand washing is always an important step to decrease transmission of the novel coronavirus.” 

Dr. Lang warns, “If you are experiencing shortness of breath, high fever, chest pain, vomiting, or other symptoms you cannot control at home, please seek medical attention at the nearest emergency department before a hurricane or other storm. It may not be safe nor possible to leave your house during an actual storm, as heavy rains and strong winds may prevent safe driving.” 

During a strong storm, fire rescue (911) may not be in service. After a hurricane, road hazards may make it challenging to access some roads in South Florida.

What do gas-powered generators have to do with COVID-19?

A significant yet often overlooked medical concern is possible exposure to carbon monoxide (CO) from the use of gas-powered generators. Breathing in this odorless and tasteless gas can cause flu-like symptoms similar to COVID-19 (shortness of breath, headaches, weakness, nausea, vomiting, and confusion). Carbon monoxide poisoning can be fatal and requires immediate treatment with oxygen. 

“While this danger can affect healthy individuals, those with an active COVID-19 infection would seemingly be at higher risk of carbon monoxide poisoning due to the likelihood of lower oxygenation from the virus,” Dr. Lang said. If you might use an at-home generator, do so outside in a well-ventilated area, and install a CO detector in your home to avoid a tragedy.

“The COVID-19 pandemic will be with us long after this hurricane season passes,” Dr. Lang said. Shelter-in-place as much as possible before, during, and after a storm to stay safe from the virus and the hazards of flooding, downed power lines, and wind-blown debris.

Dana Kantrowitz is a contributing writer for UMiami Health News.

Tags: covid-19 in Miami, Dr. David Lang, hurricane season

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