Study Highlights Compound Effect of Hurricanes and Covid-19

Hurricane evacuations could increase the health risks of the Covid-19 pandemic in the United States, according to a Columbia University study.

The study found that storms rated as a Category 3 or higher could increase Covid-19 infections by thousands of cases if evacuations are not well managed.

Researchers from the Department of Environmental Health Sciences and the Mailman School of Public Health traced the routes of those evacuated in southeastern Florida during Hurricane Irma in 2017. They used the resulting map to inform a hypothetical scenario: a Category 3 storm striking the same region today.

If evacuees are sent to areas with high Covid-19 rates, there will be more new cases compared to sending people to areas with low rates. The study, which is still undergoing peer review before publication, concludes that by directing evacuees to areas with a low amount of Covid-19 cases, new infections could be minimized.

The study comes as the country enters peak Atlantic hurricane season. On Thursday, Hurricane Laura, a Category 4 storm, hit Louisiana and eastern Texas. Wind gusts reached 120 mph and more than 1.5 million people left their homes.

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