With the peak of the hurricane season coming up and COVID-19 abundant in many hurricane-prone areas, the United States is poised to experience the collision of two major disasters.
According to a study by scientists at Columbia University and the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), a large-scale hurricane evacuation would increase COVID-19 cases in both evacuees’ origin and destination counties. But directing evacuees to counties with low COVID-19 transmission rates rather than allowing evacuations to follow historical patterns would minimize the increase, according to the study.
The research is the first to quantify how hurricane evacuation may affect the number and spatial distribution of COVID-19 cases in the United States. It is awaiting publication in a peer-reviewed journal, but is posted on the medRxiv preprint server for health sciences.
“Directing evacuees to destinations with low virus activity and providing housing opportunities and resources that help maintain social distancing, encourage mask usage, and limiting opportunities for virus transmission will be essential,” said senior author Jeffrey Shaman, a professor at Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health and the Earth Institute, and director of the university’s Climate and Health Program.
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