NC asks FEMA to send ambulances to help with COVID-19 response

Coronavirus

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – North Carolina is asking the federal government to send ambulances and personnel to the state to help with the response to COVID-19 and as some agencies report a shortage of employees while dealing with record calls.

A document obtained by CBS 17 shows the state has asked FEMA for 50 ambulances and 100 people to staff them. That request includes 40 advanced life support and 10 basic life-ground support ambulances.

They would go to seven locations across the state including: Durham, Charlotte, Wilmington, Greenville, Mocksville, Flat Rock and Bryson City.

The request was made on Sept. 10. A spokesperson for FEMA said it’s still under review.

Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen said state officials are asking FEMA for help both with administering monoclonal antibody treatments and to address the issues emergency responders have faced trying to manage a significant increase in call volume.

“Resources are strained. And so, when FEMA offers help, we say yes there are certain places where we have asked for additional help related to ambulances and personnel,” she said.

Gov. Roy Cooper (D) noted that the antibody treatments when administered within 10 days of infection can help people dealing with mild to moderate symptoms potentially avoid getting so sick that they need to go to the hospital.

“We want even more places that we can do it. FEMA offered to try to help states,” he said.

He noted there “have been some supply issues,” as North Carolina’s neighbor Tennessee recently recommended prioritizing those who are unvaccinated or at high risk for the treatments.

Gov. Cooper said there is no plan in North Carolina to make any restrictions on who could receive those treatments. Dr. Cohen said the state received more supply last week than was actually used, and that the supply is going up.

As they’ve reached out to FEMA to help with that issue, they’ve also tried to get help dealing with emergency response.

As CBS 17 has previously reported, various agencies are dealing with staffing shortages and increased demand for services. In late August, Durham County has 20 of its 166 EMS positions vacant. In July, more than 27,000 calls were made to 911, which is the highest number in five years.

“Help is coming. But, for those who are calling with a lower priority issue, may not get there as quickly as they would like,” Mark Lockhart, chief of Durham County EMS told CBS17.

School mask battle

Cooper also called out adults who are “bullying” school leaders over mask policies in classrooms.

The North Carolina School Boards Association said some school officials have received death threats.

“Threats, bullying, intimidation. None of this belongs in our public schools, particularly by adults,” Cooper said.

He recently signed a bill into law that requires districts to vote on their mask policies at least once a month.

The NCSBA has asked state leaders to reconsider that requirement, saying it’s adding to an already-tense situation.

When asked if he regrets approving that, Cooper said, “That law provided a lot of other issues that we thought were important to move forward. And, we know the very small, vocal minority of people who show up at school board meetings to fight mask requirements are going to be there anyway.”

State health officials recommend all school districts require masks for all people in school buildings, which has been their recommendation since late July.

The NCSBA says 112 of the state’s 115 school districts do require them. While three are currently mask-optional, two more will join them in the coming weeks.

Dr. Cohen noted Tuesday that COVID-19 case rates are highest among those ages 12 to 24, and that fewer than half of people in that age group have received at least one shot of the vaccine.

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