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Hurricane 2020: A doctor says avoid panic by preparing now | Column

A Tampa General Hospital physician says prepare now for sheltering from a hurricane during the pandemic so you don’t stress out in the future.
Dr. Paul Nanda is chief medical officer for TGH Urgent Care powered by Fast Track, a network of urgent care clinics on both sides of Tampa Bay that are affiliated with Tampa General Hospital.
Dr. Paul Nanda is chief medical officer for TGH Urgent Care powered by Fast Track, a network of urgent care clinics on both sides of Tampa Bay that are affiliated with Tampa General Hospital. [ Tampa General Hospital ]
Published May 28, 2020

Everyone in Florida needs an emergency hurricane kit, but I’m starting to think we need to rename it. Let’s call it an “all-purpose emergency kit.”

Because right now, we should all be thinking about supplies for both a pandemic and for a hurricane.

Related: Hurricane 2020: Seven things to know about a hurricane season like no other

None of us wants to think about hurricanes at the same time as COVID-19. But the simple truth is that we need to.

COVID-19 cases may have peaked, but at this point we don’t fully understand what’s next. The virus is still with us and hurricane season begins on June 1 and lasts until Nov. 30.

Dr. Paul Nanda is chief medical officer for TGH Urgent Care powered by Fast Track, a network of urgent care clinics on both sides of Tampa Bay that are affiliated with Tampa General Hospital.
Dr. Paul Nanda is chief medical officer for TGH Urgent Care powered by Fast Track, a network of urgent care clinics on both sides of Tampa Bay that are affiliated with Tampa General Hospital. [ DANIEL WALLACE | Tampa General Hospital ]

From a medical perspective, I think it’s very important to take hurricane season seriously. I have seen the effects of hurricanes as a physician here in the Tampa Bay area and also during my time living in the Caribbean.

At TGH Urgent Care powered by Fast Track, we have seen patients who come in for injuries sustained while cleaning up after the storm passes, but also many who come in a few days after a hurricane because they need their blood pressure medicine or other vital medications, and their primary care physicians’ offices are closed or temporarily inaccessible.

It’s one of the reasons I recommend people keep a minimum of two weeks’ worth of their medications in their hurricane kit, along with a couple weeks’ worth of non-perishable food, and drinking water. It is often prudent to plan ahead and to request refills of these medications before they run out, instead of waiting until the day you need a refill. It’s just as important to keep a copy of your latest medical records, including written diagnoses of any chronic health conditions. (Your family physician should be happy to provide you with this.) Utilizing smart phones can often be helpful as well, as many of them have free apps that allow you to document or store medically-related pictures of notes, medicine lists, EKGs, and other important documentation you might need if forced to evacuate.

Now, I recommend adding some things to the kit — like cloth masks and hand sanitizer and all the other things that have suddenly become scarce and necessary during a pandemic. I know what you’re thinking: Where do I find hand sanitizer? Trust me, it will appear on shelves again soon, along with the toilet paper.

Here’s another thing to consider, we need to mix evacuation plans with social distancing.

Related: Latest hurricane season forecast: ‘It’s expected to be a busy one’

One of the smartest ways you can prepare for a hurricane is to make a personal evacuation plan. Find a friend or family member who will put you up if a hurricane hits.

This year, make sure your aunt or best friend has a spare bedroom where you can be somewhat separated from them, if needed. Make sure they won’t be offended if you wear a mask or stay 6 feet apart. And realize that you may need to ask them, “Have you had a fever or a cough lately?”

You definitely don’t want to shelter with someone who is sick.

Exploring these options and having these conversations now will help you make sure you will be staying somewhere that is safe for you and for the family who is hosting you.

This might be easier said than done, but you want to keep hurricane shelters as an emergency option, only if your planned accommodations fall through – they are designed as last resorts anyway or for those that don’t have other options. Even when shelters are well-managed, they have the ability to shelter and protect only a certain number of individuals. Facing social distancing requirements might still be a possibility, depending on what happens with the virus in the upcoming weeks and months. Shelters are working hard to stay in a position to safely shelter families, but may not be able to accommodate as many people during a storm.

As an urgent care physician, I work to improve the physical well-being of my patients and it’s equally important to consider your mental well-being. After months of stress from the pandemic, the last thing any of us needs is to feel even more stress from a storm we haven’t prepared for.

So, fill your all-purpose emergency kit. Call your family and friends. Make evacuation plans now and always have a backup plan.

We say this in medicine all the time — preparation, not panic. Prepare as much as you can now and it will save you from panic in the future.

Dr. Paul Nanda is chief medical officer for TGH Urgent Care powered by Fast Track, a network of urgent care clinics on both sides of Tampa Bay that are affiliated with Tampa General Hospital.

2020 Tampa Bay Times Hurricane Guide

HURRICANE SEASON IS HERE: Get ready and stay informed at tampabay.com/hurricane

PREPARE YOUR STUFF: Get your documents and your data ready for a storm

BUILD YOUR KIT: The stuff you’ll need to stay safe — and comfortable — for the storm

PROTECT YOUR PETS: Your pets can’t get ready for a storm. That’s your job

NEED TO KNOW: Click here to find your evacuation zone and shelter

Lessons from Hurricane Michael

What the Panhandle’s top emergency officials learned from Michael

‘We’re not going to give up.’ What a school superintendent learned from Michael

What Tampa Bay school leaders fear most from a storm

Tampa Bay’s top cops fear for those who stay behind