Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC)
By Juanita Constible, Senior Advocate, Climate and Health, Climate & Clean Energy Program
Climate-fueled disasters such as hurricanes are devastating enough on their own. What happens when they collide with a global pandemic and a national economic meltdown?
Unfortunately, we may soon find out.
In just the last two days, Tropical Storm Arthur’s brush with the Outer Banks, wildfire evacuations near Phoenix, and warnings of near-record heat in Houston have provided the latest hints that the United States could be in for a rough summer.
One vital role of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in times like these is to provide consistent and clear public health guidance to decision makers and the public. Although the White House hasn’t exactly made the agency’s job easy, the CDC has still been developing advice for the intersection of COVID-19 and extreme weather.
So far, the CDC has issued guidance for emergency managers and public health officials on operating clean air shelters during wildfires, disaster shelters for the general population (i.e., not for people with disabilities or special medical needs), and cooling shelters during heat waves. The agency also has detailed guidance for wildland firefighting crews and more general information for the public on hurricane planning.
As you might imagine, all the guidance documents stress physical distancing, screening for COVID-19, isolating people with symptoms, proper hygiene and sanitation, on-site communication about infection control, and flexible staffing plans.
A couple of the more impressive elements are recommendations to:
Now for some of the improvements needed:
The collision of COVID-19, extreme weather, and economic hardship is unlike anything disaster planners and responders have dealt with before. The hazards and outcomes also won’t look the same from place to place. Although the CDC can’t be everywhere at once to provide personalized assistance, the agency can and should continue to strengthen and centralize its public health guidance to decision makers at all levels.
Lives depend on it.