Disaster health protocols
As the images from the typhoon area showed, observing COVID health protocols can be challenging if not impossible when disaster strikes. Families rendered homeless by Typhoon Quinta or who fled rampaging floods huddled with others at cramped evacuation centers.
Weather forecasters have warned that Quinta will not be the last tropical cyclone this year. A mild La Niña is expected to bring rains even during the Christmas season. Rainy weather and floods also characterize flu season in this country – when people are more susceptible to viruses and water-borne diseases.
This year the problem is obviously compounded by the public health crisis spawned by coronavirus disease 2019. While scientists are racing to produce a COVID-19 vaccine, the best projection is that it will become widely available only in the first quarter of 2021. With more natural calamities expected in the coming months, authorities must prepare to ensure that COVID health protocols can still be observed in times of disaster.
Distancing is the biggest challenge in crowded temporary shelters. It can also be difficult to keep face masks on for the duration of one’s stay in an evacuation center for the entire community. Water and sanitation facilities have always been insufficient in such temporary shelters. Authorities will have to provide additional facilities at least for regular hand washing and disinfection amid the continuing COVID threat.
Pathogens spread rapidly in cramped areas, so measures must be in place for the rapid isolation of disaster victims who manifest a fever and other symptoms of any type of infectious illness. COVID is not the only threat during storms and floods: damp environments also provide breeding grounds for mosquitoes that bring dengue. Leptospirosis cases spike in areas where floods do not subside quickly.
The country’s public health facilities are already strained by the COVID response. Measures must be in place to ensure that natural disasters do not add to the burden.