GREENSBORO — A response crew and 68-bed emergency field hospital from Boone-based Christian relief organization Samaritan’s Purse left from its hangar in Greensboro for northern Italy to help combat the spread of the 2019 novel coronavirus, the morning of Tuesday, March 17.
“The cargo plane will carry approximately 20 tons of medical equipment, a specialized respiratory care unit developed specifically in response to COVID-19, and 32 disaster response specialists including respiratory therapists, doctors and nurses,” a statement from Samaritan’s Purse said. “The emergency field hospital will be set up just outside of Milan, Italy, where the coronavirus pandemic has overwhelmed the local medical infrastructure, leaving many families without access to critical care.”
As of March 17, there were no other confirmed plans for an airlift to help with the COVID-19 pandemic.
The 32-member disaster area response team includes 18 High Country locals, according to Samaritan’s Purse spokesperson Kaitlyn Lahm, with the majority being full-time employees of the charity.
“Team members are all aware of the symptoms of (COVID-19), and they are self-monitoring,” Lahm said. “Team members will take their temperature a minimum of two times a day and monitor for other symptoms. There is a health focal point (person) on the team to monitor and manage team health.”
Lahm said the charity has procedures in place to make sure the Italy response team are healthy.
“We are monitoring this situation continuously and will keep our employees informed accordingly,” Lahm said. “We began to restrict travel at the onset of this virus in accordance with guidelines established by the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization and continue to tighten policies as new directives are issued.”
In Watauga, the one presumptive positive case of COVID-19 was in a Samaritan’s Purse employee who had recently traveled overseas. According to a statement from the charity, the employee did not return to work and self-quarantined immediately upon returning home.
Locally, Lahm said that the charity has reduced the number of staff at the Boone headquarters and Wilkes campuses, with many employees working from home for “at least the next two weeks.”