Learning from 2020: Preparing for a Second COVID-19 Hurricane Season

June 1, 2021, marked the beginning of the second Atlantic Hurricane Season during the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic has affected how we prepare for emergencies in a number of ways, including how we gather emergency supplies, what we include in our emergency supply kits, where we shelter, and how we seek care and preventive services.

These tasks can seem more daunting when dealing with multiple disasters or public health emergencies at the same time. In 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) conducted two online surveys to assess people’s attitudes and behaviors about going to a disaster shelter during the COVID-19 pandemic. Responses showed that people were concerned about the combined effects of these disasters, including concern about potentially being exposed to COVID-19 in a public shelter. With this information, CDC and its partners can better address specific concerns and make sure the public knows the steps that are being taken to protect them in disaster shelters, should they need to evacuate.

What we learned over the past year

Emergency managers often seek to understand communities so that when disaster strikes, they can protect those at greatest risk with effective messaging and instructions. In June 2020, CDC surveyed 500 adults from across the country. The survey asked respondents how the pandemic may affect their plans to shelter for disasters, including hurricanes, tornadoes, and wildfires. The concern about the combined effect of these disasters was apparent in the responses: 52% of respondents said worries about getting a COVID-19 infection could keep them from going to a shelter during an extreme weather incident. And 64% said they would bring a mask in their shelter “go bag.”

CDC explored these concerns further with an online survey in October 2020. The agency surveyed 3,000 adults from 98 counties in 8 states along the Atlantic and Gulf Coast that have experienced recent hurricanes. About 28% of respondents said they had changed their emergency response plans because of the COVID-19 pandemic. People listed fears about going to a shelter, such as other people not wearing masks, being unable safely distance from those outside their households, and concern about older family members getting COVID-19.

Respondents said they would be more likely to go to a shelter if, among other criteria, masks were required (42%), hotels were used as shelters (40%), distance was kept between different households at the shelter (38%), and medical care was available in the shelter (36%).

Adapting disaster sheltering for the pandemic

Anticipating questions about safe sheltering during the pandemic, CDC worked with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the American Red Cross in spring of 2020 to develop shelter guidelines that can protect people against COVID-19. These strategies, implemented in 2020, included the following:

  • Limit the use of congregate (group) facilities, such as gyms and convention centers, and instead use sheltering options like hotel and motel rooms.
  • Implement public health measures where the use of congregate shelter options may still be required, including
    • Keeping people with symptoms of COVID-19 in a separate area of the shelter, and referring them to medical care when needed;
    • Requiring the use of masks inside the shelter, and
    • Encouraging distancing, handwashing, and the use of hand sanitizer.

2020 was a record year for wildfire activity and for hurricanes, with 30 named storms.

The American Red Cross provided 1.2 million nights of shelter stays in 2020. About 90% of the evacuees stayed in hotel rooms.

While it’s difficult to determine if some occupants developed COVID-19 in a disaster shelter in 2020, the CDC and the Red Cross are not aware of any COVID-19 outbreaks in disaster shelters. In addition, the Louisiana Department of Health reported no COVID-19 spikes after either Hurricane Delta or Hurricane Laura.

Prepare and protect your health

CDC continues to work with FEMA, the American Red Cross, and other emergency partners to provide public health guidance to help protect shelter residents from COVID-19. CDC and partners continue to recommend that a range of disaster sheltering options be made available to individuals in line with guidance from appropriate state and local health officials, and that available options incorporate the use of COVID-19 protective measures, such as mask wearing and distancing, when group shelters must be used.

Additional information on FEMA assistance available to state, local, tribal and territorial partners during the COVID-19 pandemic can be found at Bringing Resources to State, Local, Tribal & Territorial Governments | FEMA.gov.

Getting a COVID-19 vaccine as soon as you can is one more step you can take to protect yourself and others when in a group setting. People can be better protected in shelters when most people around them have also been fully vaccinated.

However, CDC is not making a recommendation that shelters require proof of vaccination to shelter.

“Access to safe shelter from disasters is critical even during community spread of COVID-19,” said Captain Renee Funk, associate director for emergency management for CDC’s National Center for Environmental Health and Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. “Therefore, shelters should accept all people seeking safety regardless of vaccination status.”

The end of hurricane season, on November 30, also overlaps with the start of the flu season in October. Since storms can form and make landfall late in the hurricane season, it is possible you may have to evacuate to a shelter in October or November. Getting vaccinated for the flu protects you and may also protect other evacuees, including those who are at risk for serious illness.

Learn more about how to protect yourself and your family from hurricanes.


Thanks in advance for your questions and comments on this Public Health Matters post. Please note that the CDC does not give personal medical advice. If you are concerned you have a disease or condition, talk to your doctor.

Have a question for CDC? CDC-INFO (http://www.cdc.gov/cdc-info/index.html) offers live agents by phone and email to help you find the latest, reliable, and science-based health information on more than 750 health topics.

Get Involved: Donate Blood. Save Lives.

June 14 is World Blood Donor Day.

The nation’s blood supply needs your help. Donating blood is a simple, safe way to get involved and help save lives in your community.

Why donate?

Think of the nation’s blood supply like the gasoline in a car’s fuel tank. The supply of blood must be refilled regularly to keep up with the demand of hospitals and emergency treatment facilities. Every two seconds, a patient somewhere in the U.S. needs a blood transfusion.(1)

The American Red Cross is the gas station in this analogy. They are the largest single supplier of blood and blood products in the United States.

Rodney Wilson is a spokesperson at the American Red Cross. He says the nation’s need for blood donations is constant, “Each day, the Red Cross must collect nearly 13,000 blood donations for patients at about 2,500 hospitals nationwide. This need doesn’t stop for the season, weather, holiday, or a pandemic.”

However, due to the many safety protocols put in place during COVID-19, and many places being unable to host blood drives, it has been difficult to maintain an adequate blood supply. Wilson says that the pandemic’s effects on donations are ongoing. “The Red Cross continues to feel the effects of COVID-19. Each month, roughly 1,000 drives are canceled,” he said.

Summer months can be a challenging time to collect blood. Observances like World Blood Donor Day on June 14 are a time to thank donors and remind people of the importance of blood donation.

Donating blood is a simple, quick, and effective way for eligible individuals to get involved in their community. Most healthy adults can donate without experiencing any side effects.(2)

What to donate

You have more to offer than just blood. Here are the four types of donations you can make. Eligibility requirements differ for each type.

  • Whole blood: This is the most common and flexible type of donation where they simply take approximately one pint of your blood.
  • Red cells (Power Red): You give a concentrated donation of red blood cells which can have a greater impact on patients.
  • Platelets: You donate the tiny cells in your blood that form clots. These donations can only be done at Red Cross donation centers, not at blood drives.
  • Plasma: You donate the part of your blood used to treat patients in emergencies.

Right now, the Red Cross asks eligible individuals to give blood or platelets to help meet the everyday needs of hospitals and patients, including survivors of trauma, people with cancer, and people with sickle cell disease.

Where to donate

Blood donations can occur at a blood bank, blood donation center, mobile facility, or hospital. Contact the following organizations to find a local blood collection site and schedule an appointment:

The Red Cross Blood Donor app is another way to find a place to donate and get notified of blood drives in your area. The app also records an individual’s donation history, blood type, and notifies donors of the results of their blood screening.

Prepare to donate

Now that you’ve decided what and where to donate, here’s some information to help you prepare for your appointment.

Before your donation

  • Eat iron-rich foods such as meat, fish, poultry, spinach, iron-fortified cereals, or raisins.
  • Get a good night’s sleep and drink extra liquids to be sure that you’re well-hydrated.
  • If you’re going to donate platelets, do not take aspirin products for two days prior to your appointment. (3)
  • Learn more about Red Cross donation safety protocols.

During your donation

  • Bring a photo ID and a list of any prescription or over-the-counter medicines that you take.
  • If you received a COVID-19 vaccine, remember the name of the manufacturer, and inform the staff.
  • Wear a short-sleeve shirt or a shirt with sleeves that you can roll up to your elbows.
  • Let staff know of a preferred arm or a particular vein that has been successfully used to draw blood in the past.
  • Relax, listen to music, or meditate.

After your donation

  • Relax for a few minutes and have a snack. Many donation sites offer complimentary cookies and juice.
  • Drink an extra four (8 oz.) glasses of liquids and avoid alcohol for 24 hours.
  • Let others know that you donated.

Blood safety basics

CDC is one of the federal agencies responsible for assuring the safety of the U.S. blood supply through investigations and surveillance. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration ensures the safety of blood donations and protects the health of donors. The National Institutes of Health carries out research on blood transfusion basic science, epidemiology, and clinical practices.

Learn more ways to prepare your health for emergencies.


  1. https://www.fda.gov/news-events/press-announcements/coronavirus-covid-19-update-blood-donations
  2. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/blood-donation
  3. https://www.redcrossblood.org/donate-blood/how-to-donate/types-of-blood-donations/platelet-donation.html



Thanks in advance for your questions and comments on this Public Health Matters post. Please note that the CDC does not give personal medical advice. If you are concerned you have a disease or condition, talk to your doctor.

Have a question for CDC? CDC-INFO (http://www.cdc.gov/cdc-info/index.html) offers live agents by phone and email to help you find the latest, reliable, and science-based health information on more than 750 health topics.











Volunteers Prepare for Another Season of Disaster Response, Relief Work

A woman in a mask shakes the paw of a dog in a cage.
American Red Cross volunteer Gaenor Speed cares for a dog displaced by the Oregon wildfires in September 2020. (Photo: American Red Cross)

This student-authored post is published by CPR in partnership with Medill News Service and the Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications. The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views, policies, or positions of CPR or CDC.

American Red Cross volunteer Gaenor Speed stood six feet away from a couple who lost everything in the wildfires that burned through the Cascade Mountains in Oregon last September. The first thing she wanted to do was hug them.

“I’m a hugger,” said Speed, 78, a retired nurse. “It’s really hard listening to a sad story from far away with masks on and not being able to just give them a hug.”

The couple told her about their photos — of their wedding, their children, their grandchildren — all destroyed amid the ash and rubble that was their home.

“They asked me, ‘Do you think we’ll find them? Our photos?’” Speed said. “It was so sad. You just want to hold them.”

Speed says the COVID-19 pandemic has made it difficult, if not impossible, for volunteers to comfort survivors in the ways they are used to. CDC recommends people stay at least 6 feet (or about 2 arm lengths) from others to prevent getting sick.

“Everything changed with COVID-19,” she said. “It was like everything went upside down. Those of us who had been on deployments before were used to big shelters with lots of people, where we’d go around, sit on the side of their cots, talk to them and listen to their stories. Now, it’s so hard to be able to empathize. We look like we’re standing off a long way, which we are.”

Speed, who lives in Cape Coral, Fla., is one of the most active volunteers in the Red Cross South Florida Region. She has responded to more than 20 disasters across the country since 2016. She’s helped with emergency shelters, distributed food and supplies, and provided emotional support to victims.

Speed racked up frequent flyer miles in 2020. She deployed to Puerto Rico in response to an earthquake, the Florida Panhandle for a wildfire, and Louisiana after Hurricane Laura. She spent September in Oregon for the wildfires and returned to Florida in November for Tropical Storm Eta.

The pandemic and a record number of natural disasters have tested the resilience of first responders, emergency management officials, relief organizations, and volunteers like Speed.

Things aren’t expected to get easier. Researchers predict an active Atlantic hurricane season in 2021.(1) NOAA will issue its initial outlook for the 2021 season in late May.(2)

Hurricane season starts on May 15 in the North Pacific and June 1 in the Atlantic and the Caribbean. Disaster relief organizations are preparing now.

The Red Cross partners with state and local agencies to put in place emergency plans for shelter, food distribution, and volunteer assistance. Those plans must also integrate mask requirements, facility temperature screenings, physical distancing measures, and cleaning and disinfecting practices.

“As we saw in 2020, disasters did not stop for the pandemic,” said Siara Campbell, regional communications manager for the South Florida Region. “It is imperative to make preparations now, and you need to prepare with the coronavirus situation in mind. You just have to be agile and ready to allocate resources that you may not have expected previously.”

Nicole Coates, director of emergency management and public safety for the Village of Wellington, Fla., agrees. The village is reviewing debris removal contracts, servicing generators, and putting emergency vendors on standby in advance of the hurricane season.

“The better prepared our residents are, the better prepared we are, so we start that public messaging as early as we can before storm season,” Coates said.

Speed knows the importance of preparing her community, as well. She’s helping to recruit volunteers in the hopes of finding others who, too, are willing and ready to deploy.

She believes everyone has something to offer.

“It’s the giving back,” she said. “We need everybody, and I like being in an organization where we’ve got different jobs, but we’re all working for the same goal: to deliver people from these terrible disasters and, as soon as we can, get them back to being able to carry on their lives again.”

Supporting voluntary organizations like the Red Cross is an example of how people can get involved during National Volunteer Month. Other ways you can help improve the preparedness and resilience of your community include participating in response drills and donating blood.

Visit the Prepare Your Health website for information on how to prepare for emergencies.



Thanks in advance for your questions and comments on this Public Health Matters post. Please note that the CDC does not give personal medical advice. If you are concerned you have a disease or condition, talk to your doctor.

Have a question for CDC? CDC-INFO (http://www.cdc.gov/cdc-info/index.html) offers live agents by phone and email to help you find the latest, reliable, and science-based health information on more than 750 health topics.