Cots are laid out at the Diego Martin Centrel Community Centre which will be used as an emergency centre.

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There are 70 emergency shelters across the country retrofitted to be COVID-19 compliant should they need to be operationalised in the event of a disaster amidst the pandemic.

“COVID-19 and the health regulations have to be the primary concern,” Diego Martin Central emergency shelter volunteer manager Alexander Criqui told Guardian Media during a visit to the facility yesterday.

There are the expected additions such as hand washing and sanitation facilities along with temperature checks and COVID-19 screening for those sheltering. But there other substantial changes made.

Further emphasis is being placed on health as dedicated medical assessment and treatment areas have been introduced.

“Previously we weren’t detailed in medical treatment as such. Only if something came up – where somebody might have developed a high fever or cough while sheltering – then we’d have had to designate an area,” Tunapuna Piarco Regional Corporation Disaster Management Coordinator Hayden Alexander told Guardian Media during a visit to a shelter at Bamboo #3 yesterday.

“With COVID-19 now, we have to designate these areas now beforehand – that’s the difference.”

These areas can be used to quarantine and isolate any suspected cases that come to the shelter as Disaster Management Coordinator of the Penal Debe Regional Corporation, Videsh Lall explained.

“So anyone displaying COVID-like symptoms would be isolated in a separate area and then sent to receive further treatment,” he said during a visit to their shelter yesterday.

Another major change to operations is the increased spacing between the beds in the dormitory area. Speaking with Guardian Media at the Diego Martin Central community centre, which is an emergency shelter, the Ministry of Rural Development and Local Government’s Senior Disaster Management Coordinator Jerry David explained this measure has impacted their capacity.

“This dormitory area…traditionally would have been able to house three times the number of people. But you noticed the cots are set apart six feet from each other and even the space in the corridors are six feet. So it has made the number of persons who we can shelter here far less,” he said.

“But again, these are the times in which we live and these are the precautions which we must take so that we can preserve life.”

He said to compensate the reduced capacity at each shelter, more buildings would be added to the network.

“There are many many more buildings in Trinidad and Tobago that are designated as shelters. So in COVID, we have to add more buildings to get more space,” he said.

David said these additional buildings would include schools that would be made “COVID compliant.”