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MADISON COUNTY, Ala.- Many people rely on community storm shelters as their go-to place when storms roll into their area. Officials with the Huntsville-Madison County Emergency Management Agency understand some may be trying to balance the threat of severe weather and protecting themselves from the coronavirus.

“You’ve gotta handle the emergency at hand. You know, what’s the biggest threat? You know the risk is higher for you if a tornado is impending than you actually contracting COVID-19,” said EMA Director Jeff Birdwell.

Officials said that if you have to go to a community storm shelter, they recommend wearing a face mask or some type of face cover.

“Do your best to practice social distancing. Maybe have hand sanitizer on hand. If people have masks, wear masks,” said Birdwell.

As for people who are in quarantine for COVID-19 — Birdwell said they recommend they find other plans to seek shelter.

“The best thing to do is if you can find an alternate plan rather than going to a community storm shelter, certainly do that,” Birdwell said.

When shelters are at capacity — social distancing goes out the window. Birdwell encourages people to do their best, but focus on weather first in the event of a tornado warning.

“If you’ve got somebody thats standing outside, you’re not going to not let them come in because you can’t adhere to the six feet,” said Birdwell.

Health officials said the decision to open a community shelter will be made at the local or county level. They added you should contact your shelter before going to make sure they will be open.

View a PDF map of Madison County Shelter locations here.