How Shelters Could Be Impacted During Hurricanes

COVID-19 could be changing sheltering plans during hurricane evacuations.

First, let’s talk about non-congregate sheltering. These are shelters where people are in separate spaces. For example, places like hotels, motels, and dormitories.

Instead of gathering in a large space, individuals and families would be separated as much as possible. It’s a part of some local plans.

I reached out to emergency managers in every county in our area. Here’s what they want you to know about how COVID-19

will change shelters in your area.

Keep in mind some of these plans will change as CDC guidelines change during the coming months.

We’re focusing on shelters, here, but if you need more information on how COVID-19 could change the way evacuations take place in our area, click here.

Citrus County

Captain Dave DeCarlo, emergency management:

We do have a non-congregate sheltering plan in place that has been approved by FEMA, and we are in the process of extending that plan. Being a coastal county, we are not able to use those hotels that are in a mandatory evacuation zone should we be impacted by a hurricane. 

Taking those hotels out of the equation, we have limited hotel availability. Sheltering will continue to be dependent upon the category of the storm, forward motion, speed, size, wind field, and forecast landfall. 

The public’s evacuation plans should have multiple options to relocate if necessary. As always, a public shelter should be your last resort. 

If you have to use the public shelter, we encourage you to bring two cloth masks per person, hand sanitizer, and soap for your personal use. 

I do have a concern about how the public will react to an evacuation notice. It’s difficult to judge the psychology of the public’s fear of the virus. Nonetheless, we will protect those seeking public shelter, following the CDC recommended guidelines to the best of our ability.

Shelter Locations:

During ordered evacuations, or when there is a need for sheltering, emergency management will open certain public shelters.

Not all shelters listed will be opened.

Will there be temperature checks for people who arrive at a shelter?

Temperatures will be checked at our special needs shelter only.

We are messaging the public that face masks should now be a part of their evacuation supplies. Have two masks per person.

Face masks will be available for everyone who enters the shelter.

We will adhere to the CDC and DOH social distancing guidelines to the best of our ability.

Have multiple options to relocate if you need to evacuate your home.

A public shelter should be your last option.

Is there a plan for people who might be sick when they show up?

There will be isolation rooms available should they be needed. 

Face masks will be available for everyone who enters the shelter.

We will adhere to the CDC and DOH social distancing guidelines to the best of our ability.

Go to your phone’s GooglePlay store for Android users or the AppStore for iPhone users, and search Citrus Sheriff to download our app.

Hernando County

Emergency Management Director Cecilia Patella:

What are the changes being put in place for shelters?

We have been working with the local DOH and the school district to determine ‘how’ to identify and isolate individuals who present themselves to the shelter and may be ill. 

Residents can expect the possibility of having to be screened (temperature check and questionnaire) at the entry point of each shelter.

We are also considering opening additional shelters to provide a greater amount of space for residents. Given that screening may take time, residents should allow ample time for this process. In other words, do not wait until the last minute to decide to go to a shelter.

What would you like your county residents to do now to get ready?

Residents are encouraged to add multiple cloth masks per person to their hurricane evacuation kit. Surgical and disposable masks are in short supply, and what little we do have must go to healthcare facilities and first responders.

We will not be able to provide disposable masks to residents, so it is important that they pre-plan to protect themselves. Residents are encouraged to bring masks, soap, and hand sanitizer to a shelter.

We also encourage residents to visit to learn more about how to make a plan, build a kit, and stay informed this hurricane season. Residents should visit to sign up to receive emergency alerts for their area as well.

Hillsborough County

Emergency Management Director Timothy Dudley:  

This is one of the most important hurricane seasons our residents have ever prepared for.

There will be more shelters this year due to the extra space needed to ensure proper distancing due to COVID-19. This could mean using hotels that are outside of surge zones.

We may need to use more schools. As stated above, hotels outside of the surge zones are also under consideration for evacuation shelters.

Face masks will be required at all public shelters this year, and you are encouraged to bring your supply of hand sanitizer this year. Those items are tough to find, so don’t procrastinate.

Manatee County

Emergency Management Chief Steve Litschauer:

A shelter should be your last resort. Instead, consider staying in a hotel that is in a safe zone. Look into short-term rentals such as Airbnb. Leave as early as possible.

Shelters are typically loud and crowded, but the COVID-19 will change how many people are allowed in a shelter. Shelters might be in select public schools. We are researching county buildings and additional schools.

You must bring all personal supplies such as a cot, mattress, and bedding.

It’s a lifeboat, not a pleasure cruise.

The guidelines for shelters have changed. It used to be 20 square feet per person. This year, it is 60 square feet per person. In other words, if 100 people were allowed in a shelter in previous years, this year it’s now 34 people.

There are medical needs shelters. You are encouraged to register with the county at

The county has a limited number of masks, gloves, and hand sanitizer to hand out. Please bring your own. Everyone must wear a mask in a shelter.

Public shelters MUST be your last resort in 2020.  

Pasco County

Emergency Management Director Andrew Fossa:

COVID-19 changes sheltering logistics with a need for more space to accommodate social distancing, which translates to more locations, depending upon the number of people ordered to evacuate. 

Pasco County Emergency Management is working with local hotels and resorts to use them as shelter sites, should the need arise. A hotel provides us with additional options for isolating COVID-19 positive individuals or families. 

Social distancing and COVID-19 transmission prevention efforts are reshaping shelter plans. Based on state guidance, we’re steering away from using schools that would require deep cleaning and sanitizing after a sheltering event, creating concerns beyond the storm. 

Facilities with larger gymnasiums and auditoriums remain in consideration, but locations, where classrooms were previously used, will likely be replaced with space at hotels or resorts. This will include common area spaces for healthy evacuees and individual rooms for COVID-19 positive patients or families.

We expect to increase individual space allocations within common area shelters, and as a result, will require a larger footprint to house the same number of people. You should expect to see shelter staff wearing personal protective equipment, including facemasks. Anticipate a screening process before being allowed to enter a shelter, including temperature checks and medical wellness questions.

Be prepared. If you’re in a congregate shelter, you (and your group) should have the ability to self-sustain for 72 hours.  

The time to gather supplies like medication, important papers, hand sanitizer, face coverings, and food and drinks is not when a storm is approaching. Having your go-kit ready now can make all the difference if you need to evacuate.

A shelter should always be your option of last resort, and that can’t be emphasized enough during a pandemic. Sheltering at home or with family in a safe structure is your best protection against respiratory illness exposure.

Visit to view our Disaster Guide and Emergency Preparedness Video Series. Both are produced by Pasco Emergency Management, specifically for our communities, and packed with tips to help keep you, your family, and property safe during a storm.

Pinellas County

Cathie Perkins, Director, Pinellas County Emergency Management:

No matter how much you prepare, you need to stay informed about each storm, its potential impacts, evacuation orders, and which shelters are open. You may have figured out your options for storms in the past, but this year is different because of the pandemic. 

We are working with state emergency management, as well as local businesses, to identify a wide variety of local sheltering options so we can have separate facilities for residents who are confirmed to have COVID-19. This will help maintain sufficient physical distance for other residents, and we aim to provide 60 square feet per person. 

We may have more options, or different options, than what I can tell you today, which is why it’s important that people listen to our local media outlets or follow our social media accounts to obtain real-time information.

Additionally, people can stay informed by signing up for Alert Pinellas to get notifications to their phone or email. They can also go to the Pinellas County website, or call our Citizens Information Center that will be activated for emergencies.

To help residents get ready for hurricane season, these three steps are crucial. We know COVID-19 has caused a strain on many people in our community, and it is key that everyone prepares.

Similar to what we told people early on for COVID-19, if you have a resource, please bring it to the table. If you can help shelter someone in your home, business, or church in a safe manner, please consider this.

If you can help a neighbor put their kit together or you can share resources, please do so. If you know you have a need, whether you need help evacuating, have special needs, or need help with non-perishable foods for your kit, let someone know.

We are working with many community providers to see how we can assist the community with the needs that exist. Over the last few months, we have seen a tremendous outpouring of people coming to the table to offer help. 

In addition, the county’s website says you should bring a mask to a shelter, and have enough clean masks for each person in your household in your hurricane kit. They recommend hand sanitizer and wipes as a part of your kit. The county says it will work diligently throughout the season to obtain additional sanitizer at shelter sites.

If you are feeling ill at the time of an evacuation, are awaiting COVID-19 test results, or have tested positive for COVID-19, you may have to shelter in a separate shelter, away from other individuals for health and safety.

Stay informed of the latest CDC guidelines and local orders as a storm approaches.

Polk County

Paul Womble, Emergency Management Director:

COVID-19 will remain a threat through hurricane season, requiring adjustments to typical shelter operations:

  • Open more shelters across the County to provide a safer place for our citizens while still providing for COVID-19 measures. 
  • Face coverings will be required for all that enter the shelters. 
  • We have added COVID-19 measures into training for our disaster workforce. 

What are the changes to shelters, what kind of shelters will be used, and what should people bring with them?

We’ll see unprecedented challenges as we prepare for the 2020 hurricane season, but we’re planning for and implementing COVID-19 measures to protect our citizens and disaster workforce.   

We are identifying and purchasing PPE for all of our shelters for citizens and our workforce. Face coverings will be required for all that enter the shelters. We have added COVID-19 measures into training for our disaster workforce.

Will there be temperature checks when arriving?

Yes, there will be temperature checks for everyone coming into the shelter. Temperature checks will be throughout the time shelters are activated.

Will people who are sick be sheltered somewhere else?

Shelters have always been the last recommendation for our citizens. Screening will help ensure anyone with symptoms is not in the shelter. 

Each shelter will have an isolation area identified in case someone presents symptoms while the storm conditions are not safe to transport anyone from the shelter.

Follow Polk County’s official website and social media for updates and information.

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