St James ready for hurricane season; keeping COVID-19 under control

CHIEF Medical Officer of Health for St James Dr Marcia Campbell says while concerns have been raised about the potential impact of an above-normal hurricane season and the novel coronavirus pandemic on the island, authorities are actively putting plans in place to prevent a catastrophe.

Jamaica has managed to keep COVID-19 numbers relatively low in the past few months although the World Health Organization has warned countries of a potential second wave of the dreaded disease that has killed more than 400,000 people and infected millions.

Added to that, the Meteorological Service of Jamaica (Met Service) is reporting that it is likely to be an above-average Atlantic hurricane season.

Director of the Met Service Evan Thompson said his office is following the forecasts from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in the United States, which has predicted a 60 per cent chance of an above-normal season, a 30 per cent chance of a near-normal season and only a 10 per cent chance of a below-normal season.

The official forecast for 2020 is for between 13 and 19 tropical storms to develop, which is above the 12 tropical storms formed in an average year.

“Yes, this is a concern. However, we certainly have, on our part, with health and the municipal corporations, been going through the shelters and in each shelter trying to identify an area if somebody came into the shelter and, who, based on screening or assessment have respiratory symptoms or suggested anything that they may be COVID-19 positive.

“We have identified areas in these shelters where they could be held until further assessment and relocation could take place,” Dr Campbell said.

She was speaking at this week’s Jamaica Observer Monday Exchange via Zoom.

She said as is customary, people will experience multiple challenges during the hurricane season which runs from June 1 to November 30.

“For us, based on how we have set up now at the airport, if it is that we have heavy rains we will not be able to proceed with the [coronavirus] sampling at the airport at this time because we are currently using tents. We have to have a wet weather plan in place for that; so those are the two major concerns at this time,” she said.

The Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) has said that the hurricane season, must now start to occupy the minds of the region’s disaster risk management apparatus.

The agency, in a press release posted on its website, said while this may seem daunting in the face of the coronavirus pandemic which is already stretching resources, the region must move quickly to put plans in place.

“The economic impact of the pandemic will negatively affect response and recovery should countries suffer a weather-related disaster. In view of the April forecast by Colorado State University, which calls for above-normal activity for the 2020 North Atlantic season, the region must now start planning for the very real possibility of managing two major events concurrently.

“Difficult though it may seem, all the usual preparatory activities for the hurricane season must take place. The use of technology will be very important. In the lead up to the season, national disaster offices must figure out how to plan and execute training and simulation exercises remotely.

“The ongoing pandemic presents a unique opportunity for response systems to be tested by the simulated event while managing a major real event. It also provides the opportunity for testing national coordination and communication systems as multiple response operations should be coordinated out of the national emergency operations centre with satellite command centres reporting in to the national command centre,” the entity said.

It added that plans, standard operating procedures, and precautionary messages will have to be adjusted to include the combination of COVID-19 and hurricane operations.

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