State preparing for coronavirus response in rural areas of North Carolina

GARNER, N.C. (WTVD) -- A few trailers with WakeMed logos on the side are the only clue about what's going on inside a non-descript warehouse in Garner.

But the work inside the warehouse is crucially important, especially in the face of the threat of a novel coronavirus outbreak.

"Whether it's inclement weather like a hurricane or whether it's an infectious disease, we're prepared to handle any of that," said Dale Hill, who is in charge of the response of the Capital Regional Advisory Committee's emergency medical unit.

Hill works for WakeMed, the lead health agency assigned to prepare his region--the "capital region"--for a medical response to disasters.

The capital region is one of eight statewide, and the threatening novel coronavirus, COVID-19, is keeping all eight regional units busy.

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There are currently no confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus in North Carolina.

"We're participating in weekly conference calls with our state level partners," Hill said.

Those partners include the state Emergency Management Division and the Department of Health and Human Services.

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Inventories of equipment are underway now.

Fortunately, Hill said, the state has prepared for other threatening infectious disease outbreaks that never materialized. If the novel coronavirus comes to the Triangle, Hill said, some of the previously purchased gear could come in handy.

"With H1N1, with Ebola, some of the personal protective equipment that we used or that we purchased then, we are actually making available to folks now if needed," Hill said.

The warehouse is filled with cases of that crucial equipment, including hazard jumpsuits and masks.

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Hill said the regional disaster units could be especially helpful in areas where people can't easily reach urban hospitals.

"We have a 50-bed facility that we can set up," he said.

All eight regional units can create their own 50-bed facilities, or combine their equipment for 400 beds.

A field hospital or any other effort would be staffed by doctors and nurses from WakeMed, UNC and Duke hospitals.

Hill said the medical disaster units have responded to hurricanes and floods but he doesn't believe any of the state's units have responded to an infectious disease outbreak in the 18 years since they were started.

He said he hopes the novel coronavirus won't be the first.

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