Americans reeling from the storm damage and flooding in Texas and Louisiana should watch out for major health risks after Harvey is gone, federal health officials said Tuesday, warning residents to avoid everything from downed power lines and carbon monoxide to mosquitoes and mold.
The Centers for Disease Control said people along the Gulf Coast should get to higher ground and turn off their utilities before evacuating, as floodwaters continue to rise amid unrelenting rainfall from Harvey.
But the CDC also rattled off a long checklist of worries for people to consider once they return home.
It urged residents to collect their immunization records or figure out when they last got a tetanus shot, in case they suffer puncture wounds amid the debris and disarray.
They should also sanitize tubs and sinks and fill them with clean water, in case local authorities declare the water supply unsafe later on.
Residents should avoid opening their freezers and refrigerators if they can, so food doesn’t spoil, and toss food or bottled water that comes in contact with flood waters.
And they should also use bleach to clean off floors, countertops and other surfaces susceptible to mold after the water damage, while throwing out things like carpets, pillows and mattresses that cannot be bleached, the CDC advised.
The CDC also wants people to avoid mosquito bites and dump standing water, so mosquitoes capable of carrying carry viruses, like Zika and West Nile, don’t proliferate.
People who use generators during the recovery should keep them in a dry area at least 20 feet away from doors, windows and vents, so carbon monoxide cannot creep inside the home, and residents should steel themselves for emotional concerns, such as fear, grief and depression in the wake of Harvey.
As it stands, Tropical Storm Harvey is still dumping unprecedented levels of rainfall in the Houston area and threatening low-lying Louisiana, which already suffered from severe flooding earlier this summer.
The Health and Human Services Department said it is doing what it can to make sure people on federal insurance programs continue to get necessary care.
HHS Secretary Tom Price late Monday declared a public health emergency in Louisiana, as the threat of flooding grows, to mirror the one he declared in Texas over the weekend.
The declaration allows the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to waive certain health record requirements amid the storm, since evacuees might not have their documents at hand after moving to safer facilities.
CMS has also deployed 550 employees to affected areas to respond to medical needs.
“As Louisiana and Texas contend with the historic flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey, HHS is committed to doing all that we can to ensure that those affected by this storm receive the vital assistance and support they need,” Mr. Price said. “The people of Louisiana who rely on Medicare, Medicaid, and CHIP for their healthcare needs can be confident that this declaration will allow their care to continue despite the toll this disaster has taken in their communities.”
Health insurers are also taking steps to make things easier on customers in South Texas.
Cigna opened up a 24-7 hotline for customers needing assistance, and it is waiving certain limits on prescription refills and acute and behavior care in affected areas.