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COVID-19 Red Cross
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COVID-19 is changing how The Red Cross is able to assist people

(An evacuation center in Saratoga Springs for people displaced by the Knolls Fire. Credit, Paul Nelson, June 28, 2020)

SALT LAKE COUNTY – COVID-19 is posing a unique problem for volunteer groups like The Red Cross.  The Red Cross said on Tuesday people are becoming hesitant to serve during wildfire season, a time when they need volunteers the most.

When an area is evacuated for a wildfire in a normal year, The Red Cross sets up temporary shelters in places like high schools. You’d see many cots, usually in the gym, so people with nowhere to go can have a place to sleep.  However, this is not a normal year. COVID-19 is changing how The Red Cross is able to assist people. 

Spokesman Rich Woodruff said, “The deployment process itself can be rather complex, so we just need more boots on the ground.”

Since they can’t let people sleep in one large communal area because of social distancing requirements, evacuees are given hotel vouchers.  However, that means volunteers have a much larger area to cover if they want to assess how displaced people are doing.

“We just need more people to assist because of the sheer layout and logistics that have changed.  You don’t have so many people crowded together with the staff helping them,” Woodruff said.

Officials confirmed they have to prepare for more than just Utah’s fire season.  They also have to get ready for hurricane season on the east coast.  However, the dramatic rise in COVID-19 cases across the country has some people thinking twice about helping and the current pool of volunteers is shrinking.

“In the current environment for a lot of volunteers, they may have some reservations about wanting to travel, especially to areas that may be more of a hot spot, so to speak,” according to Woodruff.

Woodruff said they need people to help register evacuees, staff their shelter reception areas and to hand out food, water and basic supplies to people before they get their hotel vouchers.  However, they especially need nurses, medics and physician’s assistants to screen people displaced from fires or weather.

“A lot of times, there are emotional needs, especially in a COVID environment.  Sometimes, people just need someone to talk to.”

Woodruff also said they’re looking for partners to help shelter pets.