ALBEMARLE, N.C. — Three Albemarle firefighters are in the hospital after contracting COVID-19, town officials confirmed Wednesday.
"Please keep our friends and co-workers in your thoughts and prayers," Albemarle city manager Michael Ferris said.
In total, 10 cases of COVID-19 were reported within the department. As a result, all firefighter personnel and staff, excluding battalion chiefs, will be on break until Monday, July 26. Town officials said Wednesday that no new cases have been reported since the initial outbreak.
"The opportunity to take a break, rest relax rejuvenate this is important for any healing process," Albemarle Fire chief Pierre Brewton said.
Neighboring fire departments, including Concord and Kannapolis, are stepping in to help with calls until Monday.
"I think the vaccinations are the road to beating this, I think it's important for our responders to get the vaccines to keep themselves safe and those they're working with," Kannapolis Fire chief Tracy Winecoff said.
Nine personnel are currently out with COVID-19. One person has been medically cleared to work and five more could return this week. To combat any further spread of the virus, the department will conduct pre-screening efforts for all workers. These measures include temperature checks and sanitizing stations and all equipment used on emergency calls.
First responders were first in line to be offered the vaccine in North Carolina.
According to The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, 32% of Stanly County residents are fully vaccinated. It's one of the lowest vaccination rates in the state.
Albemarle Fire Department does not have a vaccination policy as they follow the U.S. and N.C. guidelines and say they don't know if the firefighters who contracted the virus are vaccinated or not.
"I know they can't tell people to get the vaccine but they can promote the positive aspects of the vaccine," Stanly County Commissioner Peter Asciutto said.
Asciutto says he's concerned for the firefighters in the hospital. He hopes this will ignite a fire in the community to get vaccinated.
"Vaccines are free, a trip to the emergency room, a trip to the doctor, time off work, and the funeral home they aren't free," Asciutto said.
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