ALBEMARLE, N.C. (WBTV) – A North Carolina fire department has been overcome by a COVID-19 outbreak.
Fire officials with the Albemarle Fire Department say three of its firefighters are in the hospital because of the virus.
A total of ten firefighters within the department have tested positive since July 9th.
One has been medically cleared and returned to work, while five additional should be cleared to return this week, according to the department.
Fire and city officials held a press conference Wednesday afternoon.
Fire Chief Pierre Brewton said all shift personnel, other than battalion chiefs, are staying home on what they are calling a critical care break.
Firefighters from Concord and Kannapolis are stepping in to help serve the Albemarle community.
“They’re smaller and logistically they can’t handle having 10 people out with an outbreak,” Brian Taylor, State Fire Marshal, said.
Out of just 39 firefighters, 10 tested positive for covid-19 and three are in the hospital.
“At this time all Albemarle Fire Department staff are receiving a break for their mental, physical and emotional well being,” Albemarle City Manager Michael Ferris said.
We asked Fire Chief Pierre Brewton whether any of the firefighters testing positive are vaccinated, but he said he cannot answer that.
“What I can tell you is the city of Albemarle does not have a vaccine or vaccination policy,” Chief Brewton said. “What we do is actually follow the guidance given locally, state and federal.”
Stanly County has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the state, with just 32% fully and 34% partially vaccinated.
Chief Brewton says they are taking steps to keep firefighters and the community safe by sanitizing all equipment and requiring pre-screening.
“Before anyone starts a daily shift at that point we will conduct baseline testing and that is temperature checks and asking pertinent questions,” he said.
Stanly County Commissioner Peter Asciutto attended the press conference.
He said city officials missed an opportunity to spread an important message to the Albemarle community.
“When they had the chance to say what the community could do, all they recommended was thoughts and prayers, when CDC guidelines, which they kept talking about, recommend to get vaccinated, and if you’re not vaccinated to wear a mask, wash your hands and socially distance,” Ascuitto said.
Stanly County Health Director David Jenkins told WBTV contact tracing can be tough because not everyone they call is willing to answer their questions.
Jenkins says about 150 people come into the health department for a shot each week, but with the Delta variant spreading, he would like to see that number go up.
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