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Hurricane 2021: Medical advice for the storm, evacuation and pandemic | Column

The best way for those with medical issues to ease the panic of hurricane season is to get ready now.
For the latest news and updates throughout hurricane season, check tampabay.com/hurricane
For the latest news and updates throughout hurricane season, check tampabay.com/hurricane [ Shutterstock ]
Published May 26
Updated May 27

As Floridians, we should already be knowledgeable about how to prepare for hurricanes. The 2021 hurricane season again includes the added difficulty of dealing with a global pandemic, making it even more important to prepare yourself and your family medically, situationally and physically.

Medical preparation includes having the critical things that anyone (especially those living with chronic conditions or who rely on certain medications) should have on hand during a hurricane. These items can include a stocked first aid kit, medicines, and necessary medical devices.

First aid kits can house endless supplies, but items that may take priority include: adhesive bandages, antibiotic ointment, instant cold compresses, aspirin and a thermometer. It is also important to check expiration dates, especially on aspirin.

Dr. Karna Patel is associate medical director and accountable care organizations medical director for Tampa General Medical Group Primary Care division.
Dr. Karna Patel is associate medical director and accountable care organizations medical director for Tampa General Medical Group Primary Care division. [ Tampa General Hospital ]

A hurricane can often limit your access to pharmacies and drug stores. So, any medications you rely on daily should be kept in bulk. I recommend having a two-week supply, but a month’s supply is preferable. If the medication has temperature requirements, be sure to make those arrangements. Do you have to have a cooler with ice packs? Do you need generator power?

Related: Hurricane 2021: Seven hurricane myths that need to go away

It is important to pay attention to your medical devices and their power sources. A medical device such as a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machine for sleep apnea, a continuous glucose monitor, a nebulizer for asthma, etc., may run on a variety of power sources. Check to see if they can run on batteries and, if so, be sure to have extra batteries on hand. If they are not battery reliant, make sure they are fully charged and/or have access to a power source.

Those who frequently visit doctors or have underlying conditions typically have their medical records updated and stored in a secure location. I recommend everyone update their medical records and store them both electronically as well as in a water/fireproof lockbox. Keep usernames and passwords for various portals on hand for easy access in case of an emergency.

By exploring your access to medical care, you will be able to answer questions like: what if something happens during or after the storm that necessitates a consultation with a primary care provider or specialist? Telemedicine could be the difference for timely and effective care. Make sure your phone, tablet, or computer is fully charged and that you have internet or cell service so you can connect with a physician. Have the proper apps downloaded and login information entered and securely stored for easy access. Last year, we were still learning how to conduct effective virtual appointments. Now, we have the tools and processes to connect with patients remotely including the TGH Virtual Health Kit. Be prepared by downloading the apps and creating the account now.

Evacuation is the pinnacle of hurricane preparedness. Ask yourself the important questions such as: where are you going to go and how are you going to get there? Having options is important in case something falls through. The best option is arranging to stay with family or friends. If possible, avoid public shelters where large crowds may gather seeking safety. Be mindful that we are still in the midst of a pandemic and must remain safe from both hurricanes and COVID-19.

This year, it is more important than ever to plan. Stay with people you know or have been around. Try to stay with people in your cohort who have been fully vaccinated.

If you are in a situation where you need to congregate outside your cohort, follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines: wear masks, practice physical distancing whenever possible and practice good hand hygiene. These practices apply to those of us who are fully vaccinated as well. New strains are always a concern, mutations happen, and there are still many unknowns.

If you shelter with someone who is not immunized, consider treating them as you would someone who has the virus and implement a quarantine/isolation plan. Wear masks and try to avoid sharing items and common spaces. Always clean and disinfect common areas and shared items after use.

Vaccines are available to those in Florida ages 16 and up. Get vaccinated as soon as possible as this is the best way to protect yourself from COVID-19. The vaccine helps to protect you but also those around you. When combined with CDC guidelines, such as wearing your mask and social distancing, vaccination serves as the best protection.

Related: A guide to finding a coronavirus vaccine in Tampa Bay and Florida

Hurricane season can bring panic and uncertainty, but the best way to ease those nerves is to be prepared and ask questions now.

We have come a long way in battling COVID-19 and this hurricane season is just another obstacle, but as a physician, I am confident we can stay safe together.

Be mindful that these recommendations are fluid and consult reliable resources, including the CDC and FEMA, before a storm arrives to make sure your plan is up to date.

Dr. Karna Patel is associated medical director and ACO Medical Director for TGMG Primary Care division.

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2021 Tampa Bay Times Hurricane Guide

IT’S STORM SEASON: Get ready and stay informed at tampabay.com/hurricane

THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE: Seven hurricane myths that need to go away

BACK-UP YOUR DATA: Protect your data, documents and photos

BUILD YOUR HURRICANE KIT: Gear up — and mask up — before the storm hits

PROTECT YOUR PETS: Here’s how to keep your pets as safe as you

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