Florida and North Carolina declared states of emergency on Friday as Hurricane Isaias churned toward the U.S. East Coast, prompting authorities to close COVID-19 testing sites and people to stock up on essentials with heavy rains feared within hours.
The hurricane, packing maximum sustained winds of 75 miles (120 km) per hour, was lashing the Bahamas, the U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC) said in its latest update at 2:00 p.m. EDT (1800 GMT), and progressing toward the northwest.
The NHC said Isaias was “getting better organized” and could deliver heavy rains to South and east-Central Florida beginning late Friday before hitting the eastern Carolinas by early next week, potentially causing flooding in low-lying areas.
The storm has already caused at least two deaths in the Dominican Republic and torn down trees, flooded streets and knocked out power for thousands of homes and businesses in Puerto Rico, according to local media reports.
Miami-Dade and Broward counties also closed drive-through and walk-up testing sites for COVID-19, limiting an important tool for health officials on a day when the state — at the epicenter of the country’s outbreak for weeks — reported a record increase in COVID-19 deaths for a fourth day in a row.
A total of 6,709 Floridians have died from COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus, according to a Reuters tally.