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Hurricane Isaias hits Bahamas; virus-battered Florida braces

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Hurricane Isaias snapped trees and knocked out power as it blew through the Bahamas on Saturday and churned toward the Florida coast, where it is threatening to complicate efforts to contain the coronavirus in a hot spot.

The storm is piling another burden on communities already hard-hit by other storms and sickness.

Florida authorities closed beaches, parks and virus testing sites. Though officials do not expect to have to evacuate people, they wrestled with how to prepare shelters where people can seek refuge from the storm if necessary, while safely social distancing to prevent the spread of the virus.

“The most important thing we want people to do now is remain vigilant,” said Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Authorities in North Carolina ordered the evacuation of Ocracoke Island, which was slammed by last year’s Hurricane Dorian. Meanwhile, officials in the Bahamas opened shelters for people in Abaco island to help those who have been living in temporary structures since Dorian devastated the area, killing at least 70 people.

Isaias — pronounced ees-ah-EE-ahs — had maximum sustained winds of 75 miles per hour (120 kilometers per hours) at 2 p.m. Saturday, a decline from earlier in the day, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said. It is expected to regain strength as it heads over warm water toward Florida.

The center of the storm is forecast to approach the southeast coast of Florida early Sunday morning and then travel along the state’s east coast throughout the day. It is expected to remain a hurricane through Monday then slowly weaken.

Despite the approaching storm, NASA says the return of two astronauts aboard a SpaceX capsule is still on track for Sunday afternoon. Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken are preparing to make the first splashdown return in 45 years, after two months docked at the International Space Station. They are aiming for the Gulf of Mexico just off the Florida Panhandle, and flight controllers are keeping close watch on the storm.

Isaias has already been destructive in the Caribbean: On Thursday, while still a tropical storm, it uprooted trees, destroyed crops and homes and caused widespread flooding and small landslides in the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. One man died in the Dominican Republic. In Puerto Rico, the National Guard rescued at least 35 people from floodwaters that swept away one woman, whose body was recovered Saturday.

Concerns about the coronavirus and the vulnerability of people who are still recovering from Dorian were adding to worries about the Category 1 storm.

Bahamian Prime Minister Hubert Minnis relaxed a coronavirus lockdown as a result of the storm, but imposed a 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew. He said supermarkets, pharmacies, gas stations and hardware stores would be open as long as weather permitted.

“The center of COVID-19 now is in Grand Bahama,” the island’s minister, Sen. Kwasi Thompson, told government-run ZNS Bahamas. “No one wanted to see a situation where we are now facing a hurricane.”

The Bahamas has reported more than 570 confirmed COVID-19 cases and at least 14 deaths. It recently barred travelers from the U.S. following a surge in cases after it reopened to international tourism.

Paula Miller, Mercy Corps director for the Bahamas, told The Associated Press that people on Grand Bahama were still standing in line for gas on Saturday ahead of the storm.

“People are doing the best they can to prepare, but a lot of businesses still have not fully repaired their roofs or their structures” since Dorian, said Miller. “Even a lower level storm could really set them back.”

As the storm moves now toward the southeast coast of Florida, a hurricane warning is in effect from Boca Raton to the Volusia-Flagler county line, which lies about 150 miles (240 kilometers) north. A hurricane watch was in effect from Hallandale Beach to south of Boca Raton. A hurricane warning means that hurricane conditions are expected somewhere within the area, and a watch means they are possible.

Florida has been a coronavirus hot spot in the United States in recent weeks, and the added menace of a hurricane ratcheted up the anxiety there as well. State-run virus testing sites are closing in areas where the storm might hit because the sites are outdoor tents, which could topple in high winds.

Waco-area news briefs: August 2, 2020

The Waco Municipal Court will reopen Monday after a shutdown because an employee tested positive for COVID-19. Judge Christopher Taylor elected to close the court for at least 14 days in order for other employees who may have been exposed while at work to quarantine for the protection of both staff and residents.

The Waco Fire Department did a complete disinfection of the facility. Court business can continue to be conduced online or by using the safe drop box at the court building, a procedure that was in effect when the court was closed because of shelter-in-place orders.

For more information, email or call 750-5900.

COVID-19 testing

Free COVID-19 testing will be available from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday at McGregor High School, 903 Bluebonnet Parkway, in McGregor.

It is a drive-thru site, and registration is required in advance at

Mask complaints

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has issued an executive order requiring face masks be worn in public, with a few exceptions, as the COVID-19 pandemic worsens in Texas.

The city of Waco’s emergency order requires employees and customers of all businesses to wear face masks.

To report a violation of these emergency orders, call 750-5970. Do not call 911 for mask violations.

Mayborn reopening

Baylor University’s Mayborn Museum Complex will reopen to the public Saturday, Aug. 8. Museum hours will be 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday.

To allow for proper social distancing, the museum will operate at 25% capacity or less. Some hands-on exhibition components in the Natural and Cultural History Wing and the Bill and Vara Daniel Historic Village will be disabled. The Harry and Anna Jeanes Discovery Center will remain closed with the exception of the Backyard Ecology Hall. General admission prices have been adjusted temporarily to compensate for the closures.

Paw Patrol Adventure Play will be open in the Anding Traveling Exhibit Gallery. Guest numbers will be monitored and controlled to ensure capacity restrictions are met.

Masks will be required for all staff and for all visitors except children younger than 2.