Florida is bracing for tropical storm Isaias to hit its coast on Sunday, which threatens to curb efforts to quell the surging cases of the coronavirus in the region.
Isaias was downgraded from a hurricane to a tropical storm on Saturday, but heavy rain and flooding is still expected.
“Don’t be fooled by the downgrade,” Florida Governor Ron DeSantis warned during a news conference on Saturday after the storm.
Florida has closed beaches, parks and virus testing sites and has secured signs to palm trees to prevent them blowing away.
The governor said the state is anticipating power outages and asked residents to have a week’s supply of water, food and medicine on hand.
But officials are grappling with how to prepare shelters where people can seek refuge from the storm if necessary, while safely social distancing to prevent the spread of the virus.
Florida is one of the states hardest hit by COVID-19 in the US.
“The hurricane is not that serious, but I feel that the public is really panicking because it’s a hurricane and we’re in the middle of a pandemic,” said Florida resident Natalie Betancur.
State-run virus testing sites have closed in areas where the storm might hit because the sites are outdoor tents.
The storm’s maximum sustained winds declined steadily throughout Saturday, and were at 65 mph (100 kph) by Sunday morning, the US National Hurricane Center said.
The storm is forecast to approach the southeast coast of Florida early Sunday, then travel up the state’s east coast throughout the day.
Isaias was destructive in the Caribbean on Thursday and has wreaked havoc in the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, where it caused flooding and landslides.