Tsunami warning reveals COVID-era oversight: masks

Kodiak residents gather after a tsunami warning on July 21, 2020 (Rhonda McBride/KMXT)

This week’s late night tsunami warning prompted many residents of Kodiak to load up their emergency supplies and seek higher ground.

The Kodiak Emergency Operations Center keeps a list of emergency supplies recommended by FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, on its website. The list includes items like prescription medications, first aid kits, sleeping bags, and even books and games for kids.

But with that emergency occurring during a global pandemic, one thing not on the list: masks.

RELATED: A tsunami warning that sent coastal Alaskans to higher ground has been canceled

“From the hospital standpoint, we had individuals in our parking lot and I saw a lot of people without masks. But at least there was a breeze blowing, and you’re outside, so that’s a positive factor. But it was also concerning that I’m not seeing as many people as I’d like wearing a mask,” said Dr. Steve Smith, an Emergency Room doctor with Providence Kodiak Island Medical Center.

He says that now is a good time for people to update their emergency supply kits.

“Things you have to think about in your emergency preparedness kit now is maybe add a mask in,” he said.

With hundreds of people gathering at evacuation points, such as Kodiak High School, Dr. Evan Jones with Kodiak Area Native Association is concerned with social distancing during an evacuation.

“If we were to have a natural disaster where people, suddenly we’re having to house people, we’d have to rethink the way we were planning how we do things and figure out how to distribute those people a little more, and spread them out into family groups rather than congregating in one place.”

And while evacuating a family to high ground can be stressful, there’s one thing that Dr. Smith said might enjoy such spontaneous large gatherings: COVID-19.

“It would be really advantageous for the coronavirus, but not us, if everyone was together.”

The tsunami warning was triggered by a magnitude 7.8 earthquake south of Chignik Tuesday night. The warning lasted for about two hours, with no damage reported in Kodiak.

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