Jacksonville lacks hurricane shelter capacity due to CDC social distancing guidelines

Red Cross CEO: ‘It’s one of the things that keeps me up at night’ as state asks hotels for help

Social distancing guidelines may cut shelter capacities during hurricane season

Jacksonville, Fla. — Action News Jax investigates has learned local hotels could be used as shelters during hurricane season, as social distancing guidelines reduce capacity in traditional shelters.

“It’s one of the things that keeps me up at night,” says Gerald Thomas, CEO of the Northeast Florida Region of the American Red Cross, which manages many local shelters. Thomas tells Action News Jax Ben Becker that the Red Cross will follow new CDC social distancing guidelines which could cut shelter capacity by as much as 60%, not giving everyone the recommended space in a worst-case scenario.

“Do you think you can get three times the amount of shelters?” asked Becker. “That will be tough,” said Thomas.

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The recommendation for shelters pre-Coronavirus was 20 square feet per person, or roughly 4.5 x 4.5 feet.

Now its 60 square feet for each person, or space roughly 8 x 8 feet.

According to the Florida Division of Emergency Management, Duval County has a maximum shelter demand of 40,802 spaces but capacity is 33,332, a deficit of 7,470 spaces.

"The state is looking for hotels to be involved," says Fred Pozin, owner of the Ramada located in Mandarin. The Ramada is one of 500 hotels in Florida that have expressed an interest in serving as a hurricane shelter.

The state sent a contract to Pozin last week. It requires rooms to be available six days prior to a storm making landfall and 30 days afterward. Problem is, what if the storm does not hit or rooms are already booked? Plus, three meals a day and a generator are required, something Pozin is not sure he or other hotel owners can guarantee during a major hurricane when they a short on staff and supplies.

"Rules of the road is now where every hotel has to decide if it can commit to this knowing some of those things may not be achievable," Pozin told Becker.

Thomas says Red Cross staff will have PPE and there will be screening at shelters as they look to add other resources.

“We need to be the most ready when the community is least ready,” says Thomas.

The state has launched an interactive map that shows which hotels have expressed an interest in being shelters.