Florida’s governor has declared a state of emergency for counties on the Atlantic coast with Hurricane Isaias bearing down on the region.
COVID-19 testing sites were closed as the hurricane, packing maximum sustained winds of 120 kilometres per hour, lashes the southeast Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands.
The National Hurricane Center said heavy rains may begin to affect south and east-central Florida late on Friday, and the eastern Carolinas by early next week, potentially causing flooding in low-lying and poorly drained areas.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis told a news conference he signed an executive order establishing a state of emergency for east coast counties stretching from Miami-Dade in the south to Nassau at the northern tip, a move that makes it easier to mobilise resources.
“While current projections have the eye of Isaias remaining at sea the situation remains fluid and can change quickly,” the governor said on Friday.
“I want Floridians to know that the state of Florida is fully prepared for this.”
Miami-Dade’s public beaches, parks, marinas, and golf courses were set to close on Friday as Isaias strengthened to a Category 1 hurricane and forecasters predicted it would reach Category 2, with winds as powerful as 175km/h.
Miami-Dade County officials have also closed drive-through and walk-up testing sites for COVID-19, following a similar move by Broward County Mayor Dale VC Holness, who said the sites could reopen on Wednesday after the storm had passed.
“We have thousands of tests that will not be conducted until we get these test sites up and running again,” Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez said in a news conference on Friday.
For weeks Florida has been at the epicentre of the US coronavirus outbreak – it reported a record one-day increase in COVID-19 deaths for a third consecutive day on Thursday -although reports of new cases have recently slowed in the state.
DeSantis said COVID-19 testing sites would remain open on Florida’s west coast and that testing at hospitals and community centres may also continue.
The storm’s main impact would be to sites set up outside and vulnerable to the wind, he said.
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