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Emergency Sheltering During COVID-19

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Wildfires, earthquakes and other disasters can strike at any time, including in the midst of the COVID-19 outbreak.  Public safety officials are working cooperatively across agencies to implement proactive strategies for emergency sheltering to keep the community safe during the pandemic.

Emergency sheltering in a COVID-19 environment presents new challenges. These challenges will require adaptability and flexibility from all Sonoma County residents to ensure we are ready.

Care and Shelter Sites

In the event an evacuation warning or evacuation order is issued, a care or shelter site may be established to receive evacuees and provide information, assistance, and screening.  If a care and shelter site is designated, it may be set up in one of two ways:

  • A parking lot. Evacuees arriving by car line up in the parking lot and are to remain in their vehicle during the screening. If arriving by foot or bicycle, or you are dropped off by a taxi or ride-share service (e.g., Uber), maintain physical distancing and stay 6 feet away from other people.
  • A brick-and-mortar location. Individuals are to maintain physical distancing and stay 6 feet away from other people.

In the case of an evacuation warning, a care and shelter site may not yet be identified.  Be ready to leave at a moment’s notice.  DO NOT WAIT for the announcement of a care and shelter site or an evacuation order to leave if you feel threatened by the incident.  Self-evacuate if you feel that you may be in danger.

Initial Screening

Evacuees arriving at a care and shelter site will be screened for COVID-19 symptoms and exposure by Public Health or other qualified personnel.  Based on screening results, individuals will be routed or transported to the most appropriate shelter site.

COVID-19 positive individuals under a Health Officer Order and members of their household that evacuate should inform screeners of their status.

Any individuals who are screened and identified as COVID-19 positive or symptomatic, and/or have been exposed to COVID-19, will not be sheltered with the general population.  Individuals who are COVID-19 positive or have been exposed to COVID-19 will be sheltered at a location that most appropriately meets their needs.

Shelter Modifications

Emergency shelter personnel will follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) official guidance, local Health Officer orders, and best practices to protect shelter guests and workers and reduce the transmission of COVID-19.  Modifications to shelter operations include:

  • Temperature checks, ongoing screening, and assessment of shelter guests and workers for COVID-19 symptoms.  Shelter workers will use personal protective equipment (PPE) when conducting temperature checks and screening.
  • Increased cleaning and sanitation according to CDC and public health guidelines.
  • Individual meals distributed (no buffet set-up or lines).
  • Cots spaced further apart to allow for physical distancing.
  • Face coverings will be required.
  • Various types of facilities and settings to meet the needs of evacuees will be considered.

Make a Plan, Update Your Emergency Kit Today

Now is the time to update your emergency plan and kit!  Talk to your family and friends about evacuation and sheltering plans during the pandemic.  Identify locations out of the area you will be able to evacuate to, such as homes of friends or family.  Consider what additional supplies you may need to add to your emergency go-kit, such as face coverings and hand sanitizer.

Sign-up for SoCo Alerts

Stay informed and receive local alerts, including evacuation and sheltering information during an emergency. Sign up for SoCo Alerts today.


Frequently Asked Questions

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Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), emergency shelters must not exclude or deny benefits to people with disabilities. Public safety officials and shelter operators are working to identify care and reception sites and shelter locations that are physically accessible to people with disabilities and other access and functional needs, including people who use wheelchairs, walkers and other assistive devices.

DO NOT STAY HOME because you are COVID-19 positive or exposed.  Prepare to evacuate, or evacuate immediately if you are in danger, an evacuation order has been issued, or you feel threatened by the incident. Evacuate to a safe location or to a shelter site once established.

Inform care and shelter site screeners that you are COVID-19 positive or exposed. You will be routed or transported to the most appropriate shelter site.

If possible, use a taxi or ride-share service (e.g., Uber, Lyft) to transport you to the care and shelter site. If you are unable to coordinate a ride, or you do not have transportation and are in immediate danger, call 911. Pop-up staging areas for transportation will occur in evacuation zones, check back on SoCoEmergency.org for a location near you.

If you are an individual who is COVID-19 positive, please refrain from using public transportation if possible. Consider having an evacuation plan that minimizes exposure to others.  If you need to use public transportation or share a vehicle during an evacuation, wear a face covering and sit as far away from others as possible.

If you are an individual who has a disability or other access or functional needs, contact a paratransit provider near you ahead of time to create a plan:

Paratransit Providers

ATC/Intelitran (San Francisco) (415) 351-7000
Napa Valley Transit (707) 257-9217
Petaluma Paratransit (707) 778-4460
Rohnert Park Sunshine Bus (707) 257-9217
Whistle Stop Wheels (Marin) (415) 456-9062
Mendocino Transit Authority (Fort Bragg) (707) 964-1800
Sonoma County Paratransit/Volunteer Wheels (707) 573-3377

Contact your local transit provider to discuss alternative transportation options.