The "most important" step Americans can take to prepare for peak hurricane season is to "get vaccinated to ensure they will be protected from COVID-19 if they have to evacuate their homes," the White House said Tuesday.
Why it matters: The statement was released as President Biden met with senior administration officials on hurricane preparedness — hours before Tropical Storm Fred formed near Puerto Rico. Florida is in the path of the storm, which could possibly intensify into a hurricane.
- COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are surging in Florida, spikes that Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has blamed the spike on a "seasonal pattern" and "media hysteria."
- Biden and DeSantis have clashed over the pandemic, with the president saying governors who've sought to block vaccine and mask mandates — as the Florida governor has — should "get out of the way."
Between the lines: The Federal Emergency Management Agency told Axios' Jonathan Swan last year the agency had included the coronavirus crisis in its planning document, titled "COVID-19 Pandemic Operational Guidance for the 2020 Hurricane Season."
- Now, with the more contagious Delta variant surging, particularly in the hurricane-prone southern states, FEMA officials want to step up protections against the virus, with COVID-safe shelters, a White House official told Axios.
- Hurricane preparedness, along with other natural disasters, form a key part of FEMA's COVID-19 Pandemic Operational Guidance All-Hazards action plan.
The big picture: Biden met on Tuesday with officials from FEMA, the Department of Homeland Security and COVID-19 response teams, including NIAID director Anthony Fauci, for a briefing on the pandemic in the South and Southeast states.
- "The President was briefed on the data that demonstrates that the most important preparatory step people can take to prepare for peak hurricane season is to get vaccinated to ensure they will be protected from COVID-19 if they have to evacuate their homes," per a White House readout.
- "They also discussed how FEMA is innovating during the pandemic by working with partner organizations to enable COVID-safe sheltering, providing vaccination options at shelters and recovery centers, and protecting its workforce so they maintain mission readiness."