Going to a Public Disaster Shelter During the COVID-19 Pandemic
Emergency managers, shelter managers, and public health professionals are taking measures to reduce the possible spread of COVID-19 among people who seek safety in a disaster shelter during severe weather events.
Here are some tips to help you prepare and lower the risk of infection while staying safe in a shelter.
- If you may need to evacuate, prepare a “go kit” with personal items you cannot do without during an emergency. Include items that can help protect you and others from COVID-19, such as hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol, bar or liquid soap, disinfectant wipes (if available) and multiple clean masks for everyone age 2 or older. Masks should have two or more layers and fit snugly against your face. They should not be used by people having trouble breathing, or who are unconscious, incapacitated, or unable to remove the mask without assistance.
- Get a COVID-19 vaccine as soon as you can. COVID-19 vaccines help protect you from getting sick or severely ill with COVID-19 and may also help protect people around you.
- Know a safe place to shelter and have several ways to receive weather alerts, such as National Weather Service cell phone alertsexternal icon, NOAA Weather Radioexternal icon, or (@NWS) Twitter alerts.
- Find out if your local public shelter is open, in case you need to evacuate your home and go there. Your shelter location may be different this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Follow guidance from your local public health or emergency management officials on when and where to shelter.
- Make a plan and prepare a disaster kit for your pets. Find out if your disaster shelter will accept pets. Typically, when shelters accommodate pets, the pets are housed in a separate area from people.
- Practice social distancing. Stay at least 6 feet from other people outside of your household.
- Follow CDC COVID-19 preventive actions—wash your hands often, cover coughs and sneezes, and follow shelter policies for wearing masks. Avoid sharing food and drink with anyone if possible.
- Follow disaster shelter policies and procedures designed to protect everyone in the shelter, especially those who are at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19, including older adults and people of any age who have serious underlying medical conditions.
- Avoid touching high-touch surfaces, such as tabletops, as much as possible. Wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use hand sanitizers with at least 60% alcohol immediately after you touch these surfaces.
- Keep your living area in the shelter clean and disinfect frequently-touched items such as toys, cellphones, and other electronics.
- If you feel sick when you arrive at the shelter or start to feel sick while sheltering, tell shelter staff immediately.
- The risk of COVID-19 in a public disaster shelter is lower for fully vaccinated people. However, precautions should still be taken, as transmission risk in these settings is higher and likely increases with the number of unvaccinated people present. Thus, fully vaccinated shelter residents should continue to follow all rules set by the shelter which may include wearing masks correctly, maintaining physical distance (at least 6 feet), covering coughs and sneezes, and washing hands frequently.
- Teach and reinforce everyday preventive actions for keeping children healthy.
- Make sure children aged 2 and older wear clean masks. Masks should have two or more layers and fit snugly against their face. Masks should not be used by children under the age of 2. They also should not be used by people having trouble breathing, or who are unconscious, incapacitated, or unable to remove the mask without assistance.
- Be a good role model—if you wash your hands often, your children are more likely to do the same.
- Help your children stay at least 6 feet away from anyone who is not in your household.
- Watch your child for any signs of illness and tell shelter staff if your child may be ill.
- Try to deal with the disaster calmly and confidently, as this can provide the best support for your children. Help children cope with emergencies.
- A small number of pets worldwide, including cats and dogs, have been reported to be infected with the virus that causes COVID-19, mostly after close contact with people with COVID-19. Be careful when taking an animal into a location where it could be exposed to COVID-19.
- Treat pets as you would other human family members – do not let pets interact with people outside the household.
- Practice good pet hygiene and wash your hands before and after handling pets, their food, waste, or supplies.
- Do not put a mask on pets. Masks could harm your pet.
- Pay attention to local guidance about updated plans for evacuations and shelters, in addition to CDC’s guidance on potential shelters for your pets and service and therapy animals.