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WEST COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — With hurricane season less than two months away, officials in South Carolina said Monday they don't yet have a good plan in place if a storm hits during the coronavirus outbreak, particularly for people potentially displaced from their homes in the aftermath.
During the latest media briefing on the outbreak, Kim Stenson, director of the state Emergency Management Division, said his agency is still working to configure solutions for how to potentially handle thousands of evacuees in an age of social distancing.
"That's a good question, in terms of how we have to do that, and quite frankly, we haven't gotten to that point where we develop good plans to do that," Stenson said. "It's definitely going to have to be some work done between now and later into hurricane season. It's on the radar, we just don't have the solutions for it right now."
The Atlantic hurricane season runs from June 1 through November 30, although Stenson pointed out that the state typically isn't impacted until later in the season. According to the National Weather Service, most hurricanes affecting South Carolina have historically occurred later, from August through October, but there have also been "fairly active" periods as early as May. The earliest hurricane to impact the area was recorded nearly 70 years ago, in February 1952.
Forecasters also note a "general increasing trend" of hurricanes either before June or after October, possibly because of better observation and record keeping.
With social distancing guidelines in place, Stenson said, the issue of how to shelter those displaced during hurricanes is being discussed now by officials who annually come up with plans for each storm season. As it is during the coronavirus outbreak, Stenson's agency acts as a statewide clearinghouse for coordination of emergency response during hurricanes, a centralized hub for the tracking of shelters and resources, as well as the dissemination of information to media and the public at large.
More than 3,400 cases of COVID-19 have been reported throughout South Carolina, with at least 87 deaths. For most, the coronavirus causes mild symptoms like fever and a cough that resolve in two to three weeks. For some, more severe symptoms can occur, including pneumonia, that can lead to death.
Also at Monday's briefing, Gov. Henry McMaster said his administration was working on a revitalization plan "to get our economy started again," giving no details but stressing his desire to get shuttered businesses "going back as soon as we can." He also noted that, in terms of taking measures to stem the spread of the virus, "now is not the time to let up."
Asked about President Donald Trump's tweets Monday that the president, not governors, will make the decision "to open up the states" post-outbreak, McMaster said he has talked with the White House and Vice President Mike Pence "numerous times" about concerns regarding restarting the American economy. He added he was confident that, despite the president's assertions he would control that process, the decision would come with information provided by governors like himself.
"I know that the president and his administration control a lot of resources," McMaster said. "But he's made it clear that he's relying on the governors and the local authorities to give him the information that he needs to make his decisions. We're working very closely with him."
McMaster, who as lieutenant governor was the first statewide-elected official to endorse Trump's 2016 bid, called the effort "a grand collaboration," saying he had felt no pressure from the White House to act in certain ways.
"The response that is coming from Washington at the will of the president is also unprecedented in the history of this country, and this is the tightest, most forceful collaboration between the governors and the president that I've ever seen," McMaster said.
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