On April 12 and 13, dozens of tornadoes tore through several southern states. Homes were obliterated, hundreds of thousands of people lost power, and 36 lost their life. Many sped to shelters as twisters mangled the land behind them. But one family was turned away at the door of a tornado shelter in Crossville, Alabama, because the hopeful entrants didn’t have enough face masks for every family member.
This is just one possible consequence of a deeply uncomfortable scenario: if, during the coronavirus pandemic, America is rocked by a large-scale geological or extreme-weather disaster, one that causes mass casualties and widespread infrastructural devastation. Any such disaster would be horrific enough in isolation, but one striking the United States today, now home to a third of the world’s confirmed COVID-19 cases, would place a nightmarish gantlet of novel obstacles between first responders and saving the lives of the afflicted.