CONWAY, SC (WBTW) — The Horry County Public Safety Committee gathered to discuss hurricane shelter challenges due to COVID-19 among other topics on Tuesday morning.
Randall Webster, Assistant County Administrator of Public Safety, addressed the issues and challenges the county is facing sheltering the public this hurricane season.
“This year and the years moving forward, please understand the sheltering problems that [the county has],” Webster said during the meeting, “We are encouraging folks to make different arrangements. If you can go to a family, friend, and get to a safer place or a place you feel safer in.”
Last year, the county announced that the shelters in place can only be used during a Category 1 storm or lower. Webster said that has not changed this year.
“We can only properly and safely house folks in shelters for [a] hundred mile per hour wind capacity,” Webster said during the meeting. “Beyond that, we are not able to use our local shelters anymore.”
COVID-19 has also changed how the Horry County shelters will operate. The virus has reduced capacity for each shelter to 60%. The county has opened three more shelters, bringing the total number to ten. Even with more shelters in place, COVID-19 has decreased the amount of people the county can safely shelter from about 8,000 to about 6,000.
The Red Cross changed evacuee areas from 20 square feet to 60 square feet to allow for social distancing. The Red Cross wants people to shelter at inland hotels, if possible, for better social distancing, according to Webster.
Webster said that the Red Cross will screen everyone coming into the shelters for COVID-19. A temperature check and questionnaire will be conducted and anyone who is positive for the virus or has symptoms will be segregated to a different section of the shelter. DHEC will be brought in to provide support in these situations.
The county will not be able to move people out of shelters if the approaching storm strengthens above a Category 1 before landfall. Sheltering needs to be done before winds exceed 40 mph.
If a stronger storm threatens, the county will provide transportation to the public to evacuate out of the area. According to Webster, Ocean Bay Middle School will be one of the transport stations that a motorcoach or bus that will take you to a safe location out of Horry County. The location will not be known until the time comes, Webster says.
Both sheltering and transportation will start well in advance of a storm making landfall. Webster says to start planning your evacuation now if you live in a threatened zone.