May 23, 2020 - Energy & Environment

Hurricanes, wildfires, the flu could strain COVID response

Illustration of four virus cells in an Andy Warhol photocopy style, with coloring related to the four seasons.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Upcoming seasonal threats coinciding with the coronavirus pandemic could further strain America's already extended emergency management systems.

Why it matters: The coronavirus vaccine likely won't be available until at least mid-2021. But while the pandemic drags on, hurricane season begins in June, wildfires generally spike in the summer and fall, and flu season peaks between December and February.

  • Those potential disasters could compound the demands for resources — both human and medical.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has been integral to the coronavirus response, managing the distribution of face masks, ventilators and other equipment.

  • But the agency is also essential in responding to natural disasters. FEMA provides temporary housing and facilitates repairs in areas hit by hurricanes, wildfires or other often devastating events.
  • Axios reported earlier this month that the FEMA is drafting a document on "COVID-19 Pandemic Operational Guidance for the 2020 Hurricane Season."
  • AccuWeather predicts 14-18 tropical storms during the 2020 season, with seven to nine developing into hurricanes.
  • And the National Interagency Fire Center is predicting above-average activity for the 2020 wildfire season following a relatively light season in 2019, per the journal Science.

Social distancing could also make preparations for these events more difficult. Prepping emergency kits for storms and hurricanes requires stocking materials, but in-person visits to stores are strenuous, and supplies, such as toilet paper or bottled water, can be hard to find.

  • Potential evacuations also could prove difficult with limited social interaction. Evacuation shelters often packing in hundreds of people.

The flu season — coupled with the coronavirus — has the potential to place a dramatic strain on health care providers and facilities. Because the flu and COVID-19 symptoms are similar, they draw from the same resources.

  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield has warned that the predicted second wave of COVID-19 in the fall and spring could be even more deadly because it would coincide with the start of flu season.
  • Annual flu shots will be increasingly important this year in order to minimize hospitalizations.
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