N.O. leaders concerned residents more fearful of COVID-19 than hurricane threat

Hurricane season prep amid COVID-19

NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - New Orleans leaders are pushing residents to prepare now. Hurricane season officially kicks off June first and it’s expected to be a bad one. But with COVID concerns, some city leaders worry people might not heed warnings if they’re ordered to evacuate.

“The COVID-19 pandemic adds a significant layer of complexity to the 2020 hurricane season,” said New Orleans Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness Director Colin Arnold.

Plus, Arnold says forecasters predict an above-average season.

“Above normal essentially means that we’re looking at about 13 to 19 named storms, six to10 of which will be hurricane strength and three to six of those will be major hurricanes, which is category three or above,” Arnold explained.

Despite a threat, New Orleans leaders are concerned people might not heed warnings due to fears of contracting COVID.

“Every year we deal with complacency because, fortunately, it’s been a long time since we’ve been affected by a major hurricane. But I’m adding in this year, my concern that people will be more afraid of COVID than they are of a major hurricane and that is wrong. If there is a major hurricane bearing down on the city, the magnitude of that hurricane; it’s a much greater to the risk of life than the spread of a pandemic,” said Arnold.

Mayor Latoya Cantrell says they're hammering home that message, assuring residents they're prepared to protect people.

"We understand our people are fearful based on what we have gone through over the past two months. And what we will continue to do, as we move to Phase 2 and, hopefully, towards recovery, you want to keep it on their minds that it is safer for them to follow our guidelines," Mayor Latoya Cantrell explained.

City Health officials say they've re-surveyed all of their sheltering sites, confident there's enough room to socially distance people and provide a place for isolation.

Emergency managers say there will also be a medical component to this year’s hurricane season. That includes the need to maintain staffing levels and supply of PPE.

“If we have to evacuate this year, the main theme of this is going to be social distancing and PPE and I’m talking about medical-grade PPE. Everyone who participates in the city-assisted evacuation will be in an N-95 mask,” said Arnold.

Health officials say that includes children.

Leaders say those masks are already on hand. They're urging residents to make their own plans, and add items like face coverings, hand sanitizer and cleaning supplies to their go-bag.

"Now is the time to prepare, confirm with your neighbors, your elderly family members, confirm with everyone within your community, make sure we all get through this together," said NOPD Superintendent Shaun Ferguson.

City representatives normally do emergency preparedness outreach in the community. Due to the virus, however, they’re doing it all from a distance. Follow the city’s plans here.

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