Photo highlight of a Housing and Shelter Committee training exercise organized by NEMA at the St. Peter’s Community Centre in February 2020 (Source: nema.kn)

BASSETERRE, St.Kitts (Friday 31st July 2020) – Individuals who will have to seek space at hurricanes shelters are being advised to keep COVID-19 safety in mind, and in so doing to have their face masks as these accommodation centers will be operating on the guidelines set out in the Emergency Powers Regulations.

A question on the topic of the two-fold management of health safety protocols and natural disaster supervision amidst the 2020 Atlantic Hurricane season was posed at an Emergency Press Conference regarding Tropical Storm Isaias, organised by the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) on Tuesday 28th July at its headquarters located at Lime Kiln, Basseterre.

In responding, Chief Medical Officer Dr. Hazel Laws said: “Based on the information that was shared in a meeting that was completed about a half an hour ago. The information coming in from the committee responsible for the shelters and community centers, we are being told that there is adequate spacing at the shelter and this would be in keeping with the physical and social distancing measures outlined in our Emergency Powers Regulations and so at the end of the day, we need to bear in mind that with the passage of a hurricane or a storm, the priorities are of preserving lives and saving lives.”

Dr. Laws added: “However, because of COVID-19, we have to keep the other measures at the back of our minds and that is the wearing of masks, and so we are thinking that individuals, who do have to seek shelter, you need to walk with your face mask. I think that everyone has their own personal supply of face masks so if you’re going to a shelter, we would expect you to walk with your face masks. Hand hygiene will be important at the shelters and so if there isn’t soap and water, there will be a supply of hand sanitizers. Physical distancing, again we are assured that there is adequate spacing at the shelters and so we need to remember the priority is to that of saving, preserving lives while bearing in mind the measures.”

National Disaster Coordinator at NEMA Abdias Samuel, who is the Chairman of the COVID-19 National Task Force, in making general safety remarks ahead of the question raised, told that: “In terms of sheltering, we’re asking some persons that if you need to move to any shelters, please contact us. If not, we’re asking one to first and foremost use the ‘Buddy System’ meaning move to a shelter with your family member, neighbour or close friend bearing in mind that we’re still dealing with the pandemic and everything you do has to be within the protocols to secure yourself, your neighbours, your loved ones and anyone else in your surroundings.”

He also appealed to members of the public to have their hurricane preparedness plans.

“What we are advising the general public for now is to start to pull out your hurricane preparedness plans. In particular looking at your communication capabilities and knowing the telephone numbers for key critical agencies such as the Royal St. Christopher and Nevis Police Force, the Defence Force, NEMA and also Fire Services and the hospital near you. Also, critically important I would also like for you to know the numbers for our district volunteers for the various districts bearing in mind that we utilize the electoral boundaries to section our districts so we’re asking persons to get in touch with a number of these individuals.”

Samuel pointed to taking care of the vulnerable groups of people in the community.

“It’s very important for persons who are vulnerable in the communities, if you have someone who has a disability, someone who suffers or is an elderly, we’re asking you to give them priority; seek assistance from the relevant agencies.”

Individuals are asked to contact NEMA at 466-5100 for further information.