More Than Meals: MOW Delivers Preparedness, Response Help

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.

One sizzling day this summer, Mo Perry made what she thought would be a routine visit to her Meals on Wheels (MOW) client, Alvin.

Perry didn’t expect to find Alvin looking disoriented and his residence overheated. Alvin’s air conditioner was broken. And his visual impairment had made it difficult for him to call for help.

“In Alvin’s case, he’s really isolated,” Perry said. “If we hadn’t stopped by, it could have been a bad situation.”

Perry’s story is an example of how MOW volunteers deliver on the organization’s More Than a Meal motto. Food deliveries double as welfare checks.

Checking on older adults during emergencies is important because they are disproportionately affected by extreme weather, said Dr. Christine Kistler, a professor of geriatric medicine at the University of North Carolina.

“Older adults tend to be the population that dies during snowstorms, heat waves, and natural disasters because they have less physiological reserve,” Kistler said. She explained that in addition to differences in their physiology, older adults are generally less aware of when they’re overheating or freezing and should seek out a supportive environment. Sometimes, they don’t know where to turn.

If a client doesn’t answer the door, MOW drivers follow an established protocol. First, they try to contact the client and then the client’s emergency contacts. If all else fails, they call first responders. “We don’t quit for the day until we know they are okay,” said Natalie Huggins, a MOW volunteer coordinator based in Richland, Washington.

Volunteers also use their visits with clients to help them prepare for and respond to emergencies. MOW chapters in the Pacific Northwest delivered fans during this summer’s extreme heat.

In Lee County, Florida, it’s not winter storms but hurricanes that worry MOW administrators. Rebecca Busby, Food Programs Manager at MOW of Lee County, said her chapter provided clients with shelf-stable food ahead of Hurricane Elsa in July 2021.

Older adults can face barriers to accessing emergency supplies on their own. Many older adults have mobility disabilities that make it difficult for them to run essential errands.

Older adults might not have the financial means to pay for unanticipated expenses, according to Janaira Quigley, a former program manager at MOW in San Diego. When clients are struggling to cover their living costs on a fixed income, emergency supplies can be a low priority. “Emergency preparedness, that’s way down on the list,” Quigley said. “They’re just trying to make ends meet.”

In addition to supplies, MOW volunteers their clients stay informed.

In Florida, volunteers ensured that their clients stayed up to date as Hurricane Elsa approached. Meals came with a flyer with information on what they need to prepare for, what they can do with their pets, and what they need to have on hand, said Rebecca Busby.

Information about COVID-19, including tips on how older adults can stay safe, was distributed nationally, according to Carter Florence, Senior Director of Strategy and Impact at MOW America.

“I think for seniors, information is important. They don’t hop online, and they don’t get text messages,” said Sarah Hall, Development Director of MOW in Spokane, Washington. “A big barrier is making sure that people stay in contact and not just assume that they know what’s going on.”

MOW is also an important source of information for first responders. Chapters in Florida help responders to identify people who are at increased risk of injury and death during emergencies like hurricanes.

As for Mo Perry in Minnesota, the experience of working with clients like Alvin proves the importance of community connections to building resilience. “I think of it sort of like roots underground that intermingle and hold the trees in place when the storms come,” she said.

 

Thanks in advance for your questions and comments on this Public Health Matters post. Please note that 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.

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.

Emergency Preparedness Tips for Parents of Children with Special Healthcare Needs

A young girl wearing sunglasses on the beach.

April is National Autism Awareness Month. It is also a time of year when people must prepare for severe weather.

April, May, and June are peak months for tornadoes in many states. And the Atlantic hurricane season officially starts on June 1.

Emergencies come in all sizes and affect people in different ways. All emergencies require some amount of personal health preparedness beforehand to stay safe and healthy during and afterward. At a minimum that means stocking up on emergency supplies, such as food, water, prescriptions, and backup power sources.

For Jennifer Silliman and her family, it means that and more. Her 11-year-old daughter, Allyson, has autism. They live in South Florida, where they’ve experienced over a dozen hurricanes and tropical storms since moving there in 2003.

Preparing for emergencies can be challenging for families caring for a child with autism or other disability. But a little preparation now can make a big difference when an emergency happens.

Planning is paramount

All children have unique needs during an emergency. Preparedness planning for children with special healthcare needs is often more complicated because they may have:

  • A hard time moving from one place to another,
  • Urgent or constant medical needs,
  • Difficulty communicating, and
  • Trouble with transitioning to different situations.

A disaster can present some or all these difficulties at once.

Having a plan for how to stay healthy, informed, connected, and calm is important. If there is a child with special healthcare needs in your family, your emergency action plan should include an emergency care plan.

An emergency care plan is important paperwork that you and your child’s doctor can write together. It’s used to communicate information about your child to caregivers. During an emergency, this could include teachers, grandparents, friends, and neighbors.

“My biggest fear is that Allyson would get separated from me and my husband during an emergency,” says Jennifer. “Allyson is nonverbal, so she cannot tell people where she lives, what her phone number is, or how to contact her parents.”

Because of her communication challenges, Allyson wears a bracelet that has her full name and her parents’ names and contact information. “She wears it all the time. She never takes it off,” says Jennifer.

Nothing worthwhile is easy

When there is a hurricane in the forecast, Jennifer’s family makes sure they have the basics, such as water, batteries, and flashlights. But they must also prepare for Allyson’s personal needs.

Personal needs include the everyday items that she could not do without in an emergency. Allyson’s needs include a weighted blanket and a white noise machine to help her sleep and several favorite foods.

“My daughter has six foods that she eats every day, including honeydew melon and French toast sticks. Almost every food she eats must be refrigerated or cooked in a microwave and this can present challenges if the power goes out during a hurricane,” says Jennifer.

Some of Allyson’s other must-haves are noise-canceling headphones and a tablet preloaded with her favorite television shows and music. Then there’s the backup battery power that’s needed to run these things. All would be invaluable if her family ever had to evacuate to a shelter.

Strive for peace of mind

Preparing for an emergency can be stressful for all families, especially those with children with special healthcare needs. Having—and practicing—an emergency action plan can help families respond with confidence to the real thing.

Communication is key. It’s important for all families to talk to their children about what is happening in a way that they can understand. Keep it simple and consider the child’s age and type of disability.

Even though Jennifer’s daughter, Allyson, does not have a lot of expressive language, she does understand when others talk to her. “We want to be respectful of Allyson, so we tell her ‘Hey, we might need to pack up and go,’ or ‘It might get really loud tonight, and the house might get dark.’ I think telling children what’s going on puts them at ease.”

After a disaster, parents, caregivers, and healthcare providers must know how to help children cope with their different and strong emotions. Some children react right away; others may show signs of difficulty much later. Coping with a disaster can be particularly difficult for children with disabilities.

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

Resources

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.

Threats Unseen: Beware of Norovirus During an Emergency

Woman clutches her stomach as if feeling nauseous

Natural disasters are unpredictable. Often, we don’t know when or where they will happen or if we will have to leave our homes because of them. Evacuations for hurricanes and wildfires can force people into emergency shelters, where close quarters, shared spaces, and high-touch surfaces can make it easy for norovirus to spread.Graphic that defines norovirus. Text also in body of article.

Norovirus outbreaks occurred in most evacuation shelters in Butte and Glenn counties, Calif., during the Camp Fire in November 2018. Public-health officials identified 292 people ill with acute gastroenteritis caused by norovirus.(1)

A norovirus outbreak among evacuees from Hurricane Katrina in 2005 was also reported in CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. That outbreak might have affected approximately 1,000 evacuees and relief workers.(2)

What is Norovirus?

Norovirus is a very contagious virus that causes vomiting and diarrhea. Most “stomach bugs” are likely norovirus infections because it’s a relatively common virus. Anyone can catch norovirus from direct contact with an infected person, touching a contaminated surface, or eating contaminated food. It only takes a very small amount of virus particles to make
you sick. The number of particles that could fit on the head of a pin is enough to infect more than 1,000 people.

A person infected with norovirus usually starts to feel ill 12 to 48 hours after they’ve been exposed. The most common symptoms of norovirus infection are diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, and stomach pain. But it can cause fever, headache, and body aches, too.

Be Prepared

Follow the guidance of local officials when going to an emergency shelter during the COVID-19 pandemic. They will tell you when and where to take shelter and what to bring with you.

Act now to prepare “go kits” for family members. Include everyday personal items you cannot do without and other personal protective supplies, such as hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol, bar or liquid soap, disinfectant wipes and spray, and at least two masks per person age 2 or older in your household.

If your Emergency Action Plan is to go to a shelter in an evacuation, your kit might also include plenty of nonperishable food, mess kits (e.g., reusable cups, plates, bowls utensils). Also, pack paper towels and disposable plastic gloves to clean up after a sick family member. If you are cleaning up after someone vomits or has diarrhea, use a bleach-based cleaner to prevent the spread of norovirus.

Wash Your Hands

Clean hands are essential to health, whether in an emergency or day-to-day life. Handwashing can keep you healthy and prevent the spread of respiratory and diarrheal infections, like norovirus, from one person to the next. Unseen woman washing her hands with soap in a sink.

Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water especially after using the toilet or changing diapers; always before eating, preparing, or handling food; and before giving yourself or someone else medicine. Here’s how:

  • Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold) and apply soap.
  • Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.
  • Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice.
  • Rinse your hands well under the water.
  • Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them.

You can use alcohol-based hand sanitizers in addition to hand washing. But you should not use hand sanitizer as a substitute for washing your hands with soap and water. Hand sanitizers aren’t as effective at removing norovirus particles as washing hands with soap and water.

If you start to feel sick, continue to wash your hands often with soap and water and try to avoid direct contact with others. You should not prepare food for others or provide health care while you are sick, and for at least 2 days after symptoms stop.

Learn More

CDC and state and local health departments help to raise awareness among healthcare providers and the public about norovirus and how to prevent it. Learn more about how they work to prevent and stop norovirus outbreaks.

For more suggestions on how to prepare your health for emergencies, visit https://www.cdc.gov/prepyourhealth/.

Resources

References

  1. https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6920a1.htm
  2. https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm5440a3.htm


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.

In Case You Missed It: Top Posts of 2020

best of 2020 image

Most of us were ready to say goodbye and even good riddance to 2020.

It is a year that no one will soon forget for obvious reasons, like the COVID-19 pandemic and a record-breaking Atlantic hurricane season, and lesser-known ones—did you know that California and Colorado experienced the largest wildfires in their states’ histories?

But 2020 wasn’t all bad. Some good things happened, too.

We were also able to publish 36 posts on various personal health preparedness topics to the Public Health Matters blog. Let’s look back at some of the most viewed blog posts of 2020.

Little girl using a nebulizerManaging Asthma During COVID-19

One in 13 people can be affected by asthma. People with moderate to severe asthma may be at higher risk of getting very sick from COVID-19. This post shared tips on how people can prevent and control asthma attacks during the pandemic.

Drive thru sign in parking lotHeaded Out? How to Stay Healthy When Running Essential Errands

Since the start of COVID-19 pandemic, we have all tried to do our part to slow the spread by staying home. But that is not always possible. This post shared tips on how to stay healthy when running essential errands, for example, to the grocery store, pharmacy, bank, and gas station.

Hurricane evacuation signPrepare Your Health for the 2020 Hurricane Season

Published during Hurricane Preparedness Week in May, this post shared tips on how to prepare your health for a hurricane or tropical storm during the COVID-19 pandemic. In total, the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season produced 30 named storms (top winds of 39 mph or greater), of which 13 became hurricanes (top winds of 74 mph or greater), including six major hurricanes (top winds of 111 mph or greater). This was the most storms on record, surpassing the 28 from 2005, and the second-highest number of hurricanes on record.(1)

Mother and childAFM is Serious: Know the Symptoms. Act Fast.

Acute flaccid myelitis (AFM) is a serious neurologic condition that causes limb weakness and paralysis. It is uncommon but mostly affects children. There have been three AFM outbreaks in the United States—in 2014, 2016, and 2018. This post shared information on when to suspect AFM, when to reach out to your pediatrician, and how to prevent exposure to COVID-19.

2020 didn’t come up roses but stay optimistic. There’s always this year.

Resources

References

  1. https://www.noaa.gov/media-release/record-breaking-atlantic-hurricane-season-draws-to-end

 

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.

What that hurricane map means

For The New York Times, Alberto Cairo and Tala Schlossberg explain the cone of uncertainty we often see in the news when a hurricane approaches. People often misinterpret the graphic:

The cone graphic is deceptively simple. That becomes a liability if people believe they’re out of harm’s way when they aren’t. As with many charts, it’s risky to assume we can interpret a hurricane map correctly with just a glance. Graphics like these need to be read closely and carefully. Only then can we grasp what they’re really saying.

Depict uncertainty more clearly, and people will understand the probabilities and confidence intervals more clearly.

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Maps of natural disasters and extreme weather

For The Washington Post, Tim Meko mapped floods, tornados, hurricanes, extreme temperatures, wildfires, and lightning:

Data collection for these events has never been more consistent. Mapping the trends in recent years gives us an idea of where disasters have the tendency to strike. In 2018, it is estimated that natural disasters cost the nation almost $100 billion and took nearly 250 lives. It turns out there is nowhere in the United States that is particularly insulated from everything.

NOWHERE IS SAFE.

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3 Reasons Why Handwashing Should Matter to You

Unseen woman washing her hands with soap in a sink.

Most of us are familiar with the parental-like voice in the back of our minds that helps guide our decision-making—asking us questions like, “Have you called your grandmother lately?” For many that voice serves as a gentle, yet constant reminder to wash our hands.

Handwashing with soap and water is one of the most important steps you can take to avoid getting sick and spreading germs to loved ones. Many diseases are spread by not cleaning your hands properly after touching contaminated objects or surfaces. And although not all germs are bad, illness can occur when harmful germs enter our bodies through the eyes, nose, and mouth. That’s why it is critical to wash hands at key times, such as after a flood or during a flu pandemic, when germs can be passed from person to person and make others sick.

Washing hands with soap and water is the best way to reduce the number of germs on them, however during a disaster clean, running water may not be available. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers can quickly reduce the number of germs on hands in some situations, but sanitizers do not eliminate all types of germs.

Here are three key reasons why you should always care about handwashing:Your hands carry germs you can't see. Wash your hands.

  1. Handwashing can keep children healthy and in school. Handwashing education can reduce the number of young children who get sick and help prevent school absenteeism.
  2. Handwashing can help prevent illness. Getting a yearly flu vaccine is the most important action you can take to protect yourself from flu. Besides getting a flu vaccine, CDC recommends everyday preventive actions including frequent handwashing with soap and water.
  3. Handwashing is easy! Effective handwashing is a practical skill that you can easily learn, teach to others, and practice every day to prepare for an emergency. It takes around 20 seconds, and can be done in five simple steps:
    1. Wet your hands with clean, running water, turn off the tap, and apply soap
    2. Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap
    3. Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice
    4. Rinse your hands well under clean, running water
    5. Dry your hands using a clean towel or air-dry them

Promote Handwashing in Your Community

Global Handwashing Day is celebrated annually on October 15 to promote handwashing with soap as an easy and affordable way to prevent disease in communities around the world. This year’s theme, “Clean Hands—A Recipe for Health,” calls attention to the importance of handwashing at key times, such as before eating or feeding others, and before, during, and after preparing food.

Learn how you can get involved and promote handwashing at home, your child’s school or daycare, and your local community:

Inside Hurricane Maria, a 3-D perspective

This 3-D view inside Hurricane Maria, from NASA’s Scientific Visualization Studio and NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, lets you see the data and the lead-up to the storm in a neat 360-degree view. Be sure to watch it on your phone or with a VR thingy for full effect. Disregard the questionable color scale.

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Watch rising river levels after Hurricane Florence

Hurricane Florence brought a lot of rain, which in turn made river levels rise. The New York Times animated the rise over a five-day period. The height of the bars represents the rise of the river level, as compared to levels on Thursday.

I like the visual metaphor of bars going up with river levels. I’m not sure the sudden rise and falls in such short periods of time would appear as surprising.

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