By Bobby Bordelon
"Greater Greenbrier Long Term Recovery Committee is seeking volunteers to potentially help with response to the COVID-19 pandemic," said Greater Greenbrier Long Term Recovery Director Kayla McCoy during a Tuesday, March 17, press conference.
McCoy and Senator Stephen Baldwin called the conference to ask the Greenbrier County community to be ready to mobilize and volunteer should the need arise as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.
"Kayla and I are here on behalf of the Greater Greenbrier COVID-19 Task Force," Baldwin explained. "After the June 2016 floods, it was our time and the community came together to make sure everybody was working together, brought everyone to the table. That's when the Greater Greenbrier Long Term Recovery Committee was formed and we wanted to try to translate that same idea, which has been successful in terms of community coordination, to this response. We're not in the middle of a natural disaster, ... but in some ways, I think, this public health crisis is similar to that. So we're trying to arrange a similar level of coordination so everyone is working together. ... We're meeting every other day by conference call to try and coordinate all the efforts going on in the area. "
The task force brings together "lots of different folks from lots of different fields" throughout Greenbrier County in order to better handle a potential COVID-19 outbreak, such as healthcare providers, senior centers, school system, businesses, county government, emergency management, homeland security, churches, nonprofits. Baldwin and McCoy are reaching out to the public on behalf of the committee in order to ask for the communities help in pandemic response.
"The reason we're here today is that folks are starting to ask how they can help. ... Bottom line is we don't need volunteers right now, but we think we're going to be in a position pretty soon where we probably will need volunteers," Baldwin explained.
Volunteers would work to get food and supplies to individuals in need throughout the county.
"In the event that school service personnel are instructed to not report for any reason, which is a likelihood [as] something we could see in the coming weeks, those feeding programs still need to go on," McCoy said. "We would establish a centralized distribution point ... and run a kitchen, assembling bagged lunches, and then run distribution throughout the Greenbrier Valley, to whatever locations or communities indicate they need assistance. Realistically, assembling bagged lunches, loading them, and driving them to different locations around the Greenbrier Valley. We are also in talks with some community agencies that run feeding programs that may need some assistance if they're going to see an influx of people coming to use their programs."
This also includes getting supplies to places such as senior centers and expanding on programs like Meals on Wheels. Volunteers will not be working in a medical capacity, unless they are property trained and vetted through other departments – the Long Term Recovery Committee will not be directing those efforts, but can assist in getting willing medical volunteers in touch with the proper channels.
"Due to limited staffing, calls to our office or messages to our Facebook page regarding this matter will not be returned," McCoy said. "Indicating your willingness to assist is not a guarantee you'll be contacted. Again, this is about building a framework if we need it, this is not a call to arms for people to spontaneously deploy to different sites, show up, and ask 'how can I help?' We want to lay this groundwork and make sure that when the time comes, if we need it, we have it."
McCoy explained that potential volunteers, per guidelines from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) should:
• be between 18 and 60 years of age, with those between 15 to 17 years old permitted with parental permission.
• must not have traveled to any location that's been determined by the CDC to be a hot spot in the past 14 days.
• must not have any exposure to ill people.
• pass a background check, provide birthday, driver's license, proof of auto insurance.
• sign release of liability forms.
• sign confidentiality agreements.
"We previously indicated that volunteers would be required to have a food handlers card or safe serve certification," McCoy said. "In our talks with the Greenbrier County Health Department, they are willing to waive that requirement as long as we have someone with appropriate certification at each location supervising, so we're waving that requirement at this time."
Baldwin also addressed potential resident concerns, such as food supplies.
"Supplies are an issue," Baldwin said. "I have heard [the school system] say loud and clear 'as long as there's a need, as long as we have supplies, we're going to meet it,' and I think they'll make every effort to do that. We've been involved in some meetings with them and we're going to have volunteers there to assist, but I think the supply issue is a real one. It sounds like there's plenty of supply right now, but we're burning through supplies because folks are afraid there's not enough."
The potential deployment of the National Guard, Baldwin noted, should be seen as a positive response, rather than something to worry about.
"There are a lot of rumors out there about [National Guard deployment] and I think folks are concerned," Baldwin said. "Is there going to be some sort of quarantine, is the National Guard going to be involved? I'm afraid that's stoking a lot of fear unnecessarily. The National Guard, for example, I'm sure they're thinking about possible deployments to be able to help, like they helped us tremendously in the June 2016 flood. They can help schools or senior centers with that distribution if need be. I hope folks aren't fearful of that possibility in the future, they've been tremendously helpful to us in the past."
Although the task force is primarily concerned with Greenbrier County, McCoy also stated that the Long Term Recovery Committee has been in communication with the other counties it covers to provide assistance if or when they require it.
"The Greater Greenbrier Long Term Recovery Committee covers Pocahontas, Monroe, and Greenbrier counties," McCoy said. "Pocahontas County is in the process of setting up a similar task force. I have been in contact with the president of the school board in Monroe County to offer this assistance should they need it. ... The Long Term Recovery Committee is ready to provide support to them in whatever way they need it."
Baldwin also acknowledged those both employed by and working with the school and medical systems for providing resources for the community.
"I just want to say briefly that we're tremendously proud of the school bus drivers, the cooks, nurses, doctors, who are on the front lines each day, putting themselves at risk for the good of others, we greatly appreciate their efforts."
Bus drivers gathered on Monday, March 16, to plan food deliveries to students out of school due to COVID-19. In Greenbrier County, food deliveries are planned to begin on Thursday, March 19, with meals also available for pick-up from schools between noon and 1 p.m. each day. In Monroe County, food distribution began Monday with deliveries to bus stops along their typical routes. Each day's run begins at 10:30 a.m.
"This is important right now because, as with any public heath crisis, these situations can change daily, sometimes hourly, so it's of the utmost importance that we're prepared to care for our vulnerable population in the coming weeks," McCoy said.