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Polk County emergency management doubling hurricane shelters due to pandemic

Hurricane shelter
Posted at 3:04 PM, Jul 13, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-13 17:35:04-04

BARTOW, Fla. — Polk County leaders are urging its residents to update their hurricane plans for 2020.

Due to the global pandemic and the Center for Disease Control guidelines, shelters should be an "ultimate" last resort, according to Polk County commissioner Bill Braswell.

"To get in a shelter and spread this thing rapidly, that would be devastating," Braswell said.

While the message has always been to use shelters as a last resort, emergency management director Paul Womble says circumstances will be much different if a storm approaches this year.

"With everything that is going on in the world, I mean we never want a storm anyway, but certainly now," Womble said.

Polk EOC confirms to ABC Action News the shelters will be available if a hurricane is predicted to hit the area. It will use Polk County Public Schools, the Florida Department of Health and Polk County Sheriff's Office buildings to create more options for shelters.

In a worst-case scenario, the number of shelters will be from 20 to 40, if the storm warrants that many to be open. Each shelter will hold less than 100 people in order for social distancing.

Womble says those seeking shelter would have to be screened, their temperatures checked, and must be wearing a mask to enter. Throughout the sheltering stay, residents must also have their temperature taken daily. If isolating is required due to COVID-19 symptoms, Polk EOC says they will make that possible.

"If you think about all the bad things that happen with a hurricane and then think you have a 102 fever and you’re laid up in bed and sick as a dog, man I just don’t want to be there," Braswell said.

Manatee County tells ABC Action News while it is not adding any shelters, it is decreasing the capacity by 35% to ensure social distancing.

Hillsborough County explains it will have "more" shelters but is still analyzing how many. It also will encourage people looking for shelter to bring their own masks and hand sanitizer as these items may not be available.

Sarasota County says it will have 11 shelters open and urges residents to store masks and sanitizer in their hurricane survival kits.