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How emergency officials help evacuees with COVID-19

(Traffic slowly moving away from the Knolls Fire. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News.)

SARATOGA SPRINGS – Health concerns over the spread of COVID-19 has the Red Cross and other safety officials changing how they help people displaced by brush fires.  What happens to evacuees who happen to be infected?  Where do they go if they need to isolate themselves but they can’t stay home?

One Saratoga Springs resident, who wants to stay anonymous, was officially told he had COVID-19 Sunday morning.  He intended to follow all of the safety protocols that come with this kind of diagnosis, like isolating himself in his home for 14 days.  Later that day, the Knolls Fire sparked close to his home.

He says, “We could see flames on the mountain right next to us.”

So, hours after being told he can’t leave his home, he was being told he can’t stay.  He informed the officer who ordered him to evacuate he was infected and asked where to go.  However, the officer wasn’t able to help because he was too busy clearing out the rest of the neighborhood.

“He just threw his hands up and said, ‘You’ve got to get out of here,’” he says.  “We had no clue where to go.  We didn’t want to go down to the evacuation center.  My whole family has been exposed, at this point.”

In the end, he decided to stay with other family members who were also likely infected.  However, health officials say there are resources for other evacuees with COVID-19 who might not have any other place to go.  Kirsten Stuart with the Red Cross says many counties already have resources designated specifically for people with coronavirus.

Stuart says, “They have hotel rooms that the county has put aside that are specifically for COVID patients in situations such as this.”

Since the spread of the virus is such a concern, Stuart says they can’t allow people to sleep in the evacuation centers, for now.  However, people can go there to register with the Red Cross, then be given directions to hotels taking in evacuees.  Also, they can bring essential like food and water to people in their cars so they can keep social distancing guidelines.

“We’ve had to basically change the way we handle disasters as a whole,” Stuart says.