NEW HANOVER COUNTY, N.C. (WECT) – A new report finds that every country, including the United States, remains dangerously unprepared for the next pandemic.
Even after two years of fighting covid-19, Global Health Security Index researchers found that the world is still vulnerable to future health emergencies.
In our little corner of the universe, one county is preparing now to protect it’s citizens.
New Hanover County recently announced it is putting together a Pandemic Operations Team that should be up and running by January or February. The manager of the team actually starts Dec. 28.
This team will help take the burden off of Health and Human Services staff who have been working overtime to fight covid-19.
“In the beginning it was very exciting because our staff were very eager to help. They wanted to get vaccines in arms, they wanted to make sure that people were tested and that we were following and detecting the virus as it became known to us,” said Donna Fayko, New Hanover County Health and Human Services Director. “But that wears on you. Who thought two years later we would still be dealing with covid?”
Initially, school nurses were able to lend a much needed helping hand since schools were closed. That resource, however, is no longer available now that schools are back to full-time, in-person learning, which means health and human services staff are stretched even more thin.
“They [health and human services staff] are herculean efforts out there that they’re doing. There are people that are working three and four jobs,” said Deb Hays, New Hanover County Vice-Chair. “What this is doing is setting us up for now and working through the last stages of the pandemic and epidemic, but also looking forward to any other future health issues or emergencies that may come to our county.”
New Hanover County Commissioners approved $3.7 million in American Rescue Plan funds to support the creation of the team.
It will be made up of 17 people including nurses, contact tracers, a manager and even an epidemiologist.
“We felt that we really needed an epidemiologist on staff to help us, saber us to the science,” Fayko said. “All of us do that to some degree, but if you have an epidemiologist whose primary function and role is to follow the science to stay abreast of the articles.”
In the short-term, the team will fight covid-19. In the long-term, the Pandemic Operations team will respond to whatever health emergency or issue might arise.
“They’re predicting the next variant, you know, what’s next? Is it going to be worse? And so you never know now what’s coming down the pipe,” Fayko said. “There are lots of things that happen here, you know, you have hurricanes. People are still recovering from Florence and we don’t know what the next pandemic is, so this team could respond to any emergency situation that comes our way.”
Fayko said just like anything that uses public resources — the team will need to “prove their worth.”
“There will be ongoing evaluations to see what we need to do, how we need to do, and do we need to morph this to another opportunity,” Hays said.
To the county’s knowledge, no other county in the state has “taken the plunge like New Hanover County has,” Fayko said.
“I will have to give credit to the visionary leaders that we have here in New Hanover County. They, like I said, stay on the cutting edge of information, are very innovative in their approaches,” she said.
There will also be a dedicated building to house the Pandemic Operations team, which is located directly across Greenfield Street from the health and human services building. It will not only house the team, but also serve as New Hanover County’s vaccine clinic.
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