'I'm here to tell you this thing is for real': Clayton officials somber in response to 17 firefighters testing positive for COVID-19

CLAYTON, N.C. (WTVD) -- An outbreak of COVID-19 cases at a local fire station has one Johnston County community on its heels.

Clayton Mayor Jody McLeod and Fire Chief Lee Barbee were emotional in addressing the gravity of the situation: 17 of the town's firefighters tested positive for COVID-19. Barbee said five firefighters were hospitalized on Sunday night, one of whom was released on Monday morning. One spouse of a firefighter was also hospitalized.

"At first, we often wondered is this thing for real, is this thing not for real?" McLeod said. "So many opinions. So many stories, different ways. But as a mayor of a small town in North Carolina. I'm here to tell you that this COVID is real. And it's serious. And it's having an impact all over our country. And it's having an impact in my hometown."

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Clayton's mayor and fire chief talk after an outbreak of COVID-19 cases in the fire department.



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Barbee told reporters the last positive test was Wednesday, Aug. 19. The firefighters who tested positive are between 20 and 60 years old. The first firefighters tested positive on Aug. 7.

Barbee said his staff regularly wore masks and practiced social distancing within the station, even eating meals separately.

"There's a saying we have, 'everybody goes home.' When our guys come on a shift, we want them to go home. When we go on a call, we want to keep everyone safe and come home...but right now, we want all our firefighters to come home."

There are 41 full-time firefighters assigned to the station. Barbee said some firefighters have worked 36-hour shifts since the outbreak began.

"It's really serious, and it's here," Barbee said.

Meanwhile, the Clayton Firefighters Association set up a donations link to help the firefighters and their families with their expenses. In addition, anyone who would like to donate items or gift cards can do so at Clayton High School's gymnasium between 8 and 10 a.m. or 1 and 3 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Anyone who would like to mail a check can make it out to Clayton Firefighters Association, PO Box 155, Clayton, NC 27528.
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