Aug 27, 2020 - Health

When a hurricane and pandemic collide

A man wering a mask carries a bag full of supplies and a pillow at a hurricane shelter
Evacuees prepare to board a bus out of Lake Charles, La., before Laura hits. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The hazards posed by a hurricane are already worrying enough, but when one collides with a pandemic, disaster on both sides will likely follow.

What we're watching: This is a two-way street: The hurricane will increase the risk from the coronavirus, and the coronavirus will increase the risk from the hurricane.

  • Shelters will have to accommodate fewer people, if they're open at all. Louisiana officials have stockpiled masks and lined up buses to take people to other parts of the state, National Geographic reports,
  • But buses also have a limited capacity, and officials will likely have to deal with some residents who refuse to wear masks.

By the numbers: A recent study estimated that a large-scale hurricane evacuation could lead to somewhere between 6,000 and 60,000 new coronavirus cases.

On the flip side, social distancing — the risks of staying in a hotel, shelter or with family or friends — has made many people less likely to evacuate in a hurricane, according to CityLab.

  • Luckily, Texas' wave of infections earlier in the summer has ebbed, so hospitals along the state's coast are no longer at or near capacity as Laura makes landfall.
  • Some hospitals in the storm's path have already transferred their sickest patients — including coronavirus patients, to other facilities.

What they're saying: "It's crazy," Darrell Pile, the CEO of the Southeast Texas Regional Advisory Council, told NBC News. "You do get to a point where you're like, 'What else do you want to put on us?'"

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