SARATOGA SPRINGS — The American Red Cross is facing additional challenges and extra costs for wildfire evacuation centers due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
As long as COVID-19 remains a factor, Red Cross officials said anyone going to an evacuation center should expect volunteers to keep them in their cars with a face mask while waiting for a quick check-up.
It’s even more complicated being evacuated while under quarantine.
“At the time, the flames were, we could see them right above our house,” said a COVID-19 patient and evacuee who did not want to share his name.
He learned he tested positive Sunday morning. That evening, a state trooper told his family to evacuate because of the Knolls Fire.
“I had my mask on and I was about 10 feet away from him and I yelled, I said, ‘where do I go? I’ve just got diagnosed with COVID today. I’m not sure what to do.’ And he just threw his hands up and said, ‘You’ve just got to get out of here.’”
The Red Cross already had a plan for cases like his.
“No one is turned away, with special accommodations for someone who is symptomatic or confirmed COVID cases,” said Adam Whittaker, executive director for the central and southern Utah branch of the Red Cross.
He said they work with the local health department for people who are or suspect they might be sick with the virus.
“We have special hotel accommodations where, with the leave of the property owners, they’re sequestered off and not near anyone else that will be evacuated or the customers of the hotel,” he said.
The Red Cross was not putting anyone in evacuation centers overnight and temperatures were checked before people get set up with any help they need, including hotel stays.
“As long as COVID concerns persist, we expect to take the same, similar precautions to look after everyone’s safety,” Whittaker said.
The COVID-19-infected evacuee mentioned earlier ended up staying with a brother-in-law.
“He hasn’t got all his test results yet, but he’s got all the same symptoms, so he’s pretty sure that he has it too,” he said.
Whittaker said because the Red Cross is putting so many people in hotels right now, the organization is asking for monetary donations. It is not accepting any donated items.