TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Expect some changes this hurricane season. Florida officials said COVID-19 has forced them to draft new safety plans this year.
"There is a lot of changes," said state Emergency Management Director Jared Moskowitz. "Everything is going to change with hurricane preparation because of COVID-19."
Moskowitz said some of the biggest differences will be coming to shelters. Following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance, the state will limit capacity to 50 people in one place. Personal protective equipment and temperature checks will be used to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Florida has also started enlisting hotels to ensure social distancing can be observed if needed. More than 200 have signed on to date through an app administered by the Division of Emergency Management.
When it comes to evacuations, Moskowitz said, Florida will now encourage some to shelter in place as opposed to leaving their homes behind. It will depend largely on if a person's house is strong enough and outside a surge zone.
"We've always been telling people to leave, to leave, to leave -- know your zone," Moskowitz said. "Now, potentially, county emergency managers will be saying, 'Know your home.' If your house is of new construction, it's built to code and we get a Category One or Two storm. Perhaps they'll decide the safest place is in your home."
Florida officials have been working on the virus/hurricane combo since mid-March. Emergency management dedicated a team to creating first-of-its-kind rules for the first-of-its-kind situation.
The latest predictions suggest this year's hurricane season will be more active than what's typical. Starting in June, it peaks in August and September, running until Nov. 30.
Floridians still have until June 4 to take advantage of the state's tax-free holiday for hurricane prep. In what's become an annual opportunity, sales tax is suspended on items like batteries, flashlights and other protective storm equipment for several days.