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Study Finds Hurricane Evacuations Could Spread COVID-19 In Florida

Hurricane Evacuation Route sign in Daytona Beach. Photo: George Miziuk, Wikimedia Commons

As hurricane season heads toward its historic peak this week, a new study warns that evacuations could spread COVID-19 in Florida.

“We used data from Hurricane Irma to say, OK, where would people go from those counties and how many of them would go to each county?,” said Kristy Dahl, a senior climate scientist with the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Dahl and other researchers from the Union and Columbia University assumed 2.3 million people would evacuate.

The team estimated the number of coronavirus cases would rise by 60,000. That’s based on the safety precautions – like mask orders and business closings – in the places where people sought shelter from Irma.

“But we also found that we can minimize the size of that increase by directing evacuees to counties that have lower virus transmission rates,” said Dahl.

“Now, in reality, that may not be practical, right? People tend to follow their hurricane evacuation routes or go to where their families are.”

Dahl says if evacuees also wear face masks, practice social distancing and limit their interactions, the increase in cases could be limited to just 9,000.

The study has not yet been peer-reviewed and was published last month by medRxiv , a website for preprint medical papers.

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