SWFL refreshes pandemic-era hurricane shelter guidelines

Reporter: Dannielle Garcia
Published: Updated:
High tides during the 2020 hurricane season. Credit: WINK News

Another mid-pandemic hurricane season is approaching, and now the challenge is how to place people who have been vaccinated with those who have not in hurricane shelters.

Hertz Arena is one of the designated shelters in Lee County, and the county is looking to possibly add more, because more shelters means more space for social distancing.

Over in Collier County, emergency management director Dan Summers says they are even looking at possibly having designated shelters, or spaces within shelters, for people who are vaccinated and those who aren’t, to add an extra layer of safety. They are also going to try to limit the number of people within shelters, and that means having everyone in the community prepared.

“There may be certain parts of the building that we’ll say, ‘OK, if these folks are reporting that they have had their vaccine, go here; if you have not been vaccinated, you may have to go here,'” Summers said. “But, again, I want to stress: We’re going to look at policy that the CDC and FEMA will recommend and no doubt update as we get closer to the peak of hurricane season.”

On top of the pandemic, 2020 was one of the busiest hurricane seasons we’ve seen. Summers says he knows everyone is exhausted, including first responders, but preparedness is key.

“We will still have PPE, there will still be social distancing,” Summers said. “There will not be cafeteria lines for food, there will be boxed lunches or bag lunches, those kinds of things at the shelter. So, without a doubt, COVID[-19] strategies will still be in our hurricane evacuation shelter this year.”

And this time around, because of the disruption in our supply chain, Summers says to actually stock up on five days of hurricane supplies this summer, rather than the usual three days.

Charlotte County on 2021 hurricane shelter policy:

Occupancy in county shelters will be limited with social distancing measures.

There will be no vaccination requirement or documentation of vaccination status. That is private personal medical information.


Lee County on 2021 hurricane shelter policy:


As we have during the duration of the pandemic, Lee County will follow guidance from the state – both Florida Department of Health and Florida Division of Emergency Management.

Lee County Emergency Management – as with every hurricane season – is constantly analyzing and assessing its sheltering plans, which vary depending of each individual storm. The county, for example, could look at opening a greater number of shelters to allow for more space and social distancing. More space/square footage in shelters could be allocated to individuals and families to allow for social distancing to the extent possible. Individuals seeking shelter should bring their own facemasks, per CDC guidelines.

Last year’s season ranked the busiest on record, so we are getting ready for what could be an active few months in Lee County. Pandemics are among the threats our staff at Lee County Public Safety/Emergency Management prepares for, and we’ve worked tirelessly with our partners to help the community respond.

Remember: Shelters should still be an option of last resort for residents in Lee County. If you are ordered to evacuate, you should seek shelter with friends or family outside of the evacuation zone or at a hotel or motel outside of the evacuation zone. County evacuation shelters should only be used if you have no other option. — Sandra Tapfumaneyi, interim director of Lee County Public Safety-Emergency Management

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