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Governor Ron DeSantis Declares State Of Emergency As Isaias Moves Towards Florida

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

States of emergency in Florida, North Carolina and counting as Hurricane Isaias makes its way to the east coast. The storm is bringing wind, rain and storm surge as it moves past the Bahamas and toward Florida today. NPR's Greg Allen joins us now from Miami. Hey, Greg.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Hi, Leila.

FADEL: So where is Isaias headed today?

ALLEN: Well, you know, it's a Category 1 hurricane. It's kind of ragged, not very well-defined. Right now it's been battering the Bahamas with high winds, rain and storm surge. You know, that's an area last year that saw this terrible devastation from Hurricane Dorian, you know, a Category 5 hurricane that just wrecked a couple islands in the northern Bahamas. But now what we're seeing from Isaias is that it slowed down a bit, and it is expected to stay off near the Florida coast later today through Monday. It's going to travel up the coast very close to shore. It could touch land at some point. We'll have to see what happens here. But the winds extend some 35 miles per hour hurricane force winds from the center. So we're going to get those high winds as it goes up the coast. Storm surge, couple inches of rain to communities from Boca Raton and Palm Beach County, all the way up to Daytona Beach. In Palm Beach County, you've got officials opening shelters there. But like all communities in Florida, you know, they're dealing with two emergencies - the hurricane and also COVID-19. Here's Palm Beach County Emergency Manager Bill Johnson. He says shelters should only be used as a last resort.

BILL JOHNSON: Because of COVID, we feel that you are safer at home. And therefore, Hurricane Isaias - we encourage you to stay in your home.

ALLEN: You know, for people who live in mobile homes or in areas that are likely to flood, officials say they should get out but consider staying with friends or family or even think about getting a hotel room.

FADEL: So have officials ordered evacuations, or are they just waiting to see where the hurricane's going?

ALLEN: Well, right now, we've seen evacuations ordered just for limited areas in Palm Beach County, mostly mobile homes. Emergency managers say Florida's building codes are adequate to ensure that buildings can withstand Category 1 winds like we're expected to see here in Isaias. Evacuations were ordered mostly to avoid flooding. That's why they order evacuations typically. We've got this 2- to 4-foot storm surge and heavy rain. So some flooding will be expected, I think.

FADEL: And you mentioned the concern also about the coronavirus. Shelters - normally really crowded places. What are emergency workers doing to mitigate the spread of the virus?

ALLEN: Right. You know, there's been a lot of discussion about this as we've led into hurricane season. FEMA's worked with emergency managers to develop guidelines for shelters. They'll be putting fewer people in shelters, you know, have spacing between them. So family groups will stay together. But there'll be plenty of space between groups. Face coverings, of course, will be required inside. When you arrive at a shelter, they'll take your temperature, check symptoms. Anyone who might have the virus will be isolated by putting them into classrooms. Most of these shelters are in schools here in Florida. And so they'll be using individual classrooms to kind of put some populations there.

Also, FEMA is allowing counties to put some people in hotels and to be reimbursed for that. So that's another thing they're looking at. But right now we're seeing a limited use of shelters so far and limited evacuations. Officials are worried that the hurricane could spread the virus, though, especially if people stay at home with - and have these big groups of people, like friends and family, that get together. Here's Palm Beach County Administrator Verdenia Baker.

VERDENIA BAKER: I know we've been cooped up. Now we've got a storm. And some of us normally have hurricane parties. This is not the time.

ALLEN: You know, contact tracing here in Florida shows that the No. 1 way COVID-19 has been spreading in some counties is among family members, people at home, these extended families.

FADEL: NPR's Greg Allen in Miami. Greg, thanks.

ALLEN: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF TYCHO'S "A WALK") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.