‘Now’s not the time to ease up’: Roanoke City leaders update public on first responders, relief efforts

‘Now’s not the time to ease up, it’s put your feet on the gas’

ROANOKE, Va. – Roanoke City leaders updated the public on Wednesday during a virtual press conference about how their first responders are working to stay safe and protect the public.

Roanoke Fire-EMS Chief David Hoback said they have a creative team and because they started planning before the pandemic hit, they’re in a pretty good place right now. However, they’re still running out of equipment and they have to be prepared to deal with this outbreak for at least the next 90 to 120 days until the peak hits.

The department is getting low on personal protective equipment.

The city bought about 15,000 masks and additional gowns but they’re on back-order, so they’ve ordered light raincoats to protect first responders in the meantime.

Crews are using about 300 masks a day because they’re also putting masks on patients. They purchased UV light boxes to disinfect their masks and make them last a little longer.

Twelve firefighters have been tested for COVID-19 so far and all the tests have come back negative.

The fire department said people are taking the stay at home order seriously. Calls are down 12.5% and Hoback said that has taken a huge burden off first responders.

“Every time we go out, we assume that that person could be COVID positive. We have to treat that situation a little differently. But because our call volume is down, it’s really helping us prepare. It’s also helping us not go through our cache of PPE like we anticipated," said Hoback.

The chief added that people in the community have stepped up, donating PPE or even food to the department.

City leaders also reminded the community about resources available to help people in need.

The United Way of Roanoke Valley raised more than $76,000 for its COVID-19 Relief Fund to buy things like personal protective equipment, testing supplies and food.

The Community Foundation Serving Western Virginia is accepting applications from nonprofits for unrestricted financial assistance.

The Small Business Development Center is also looking for volunteers with financial backgrounds to help small businesses apply for grants and resources available to them during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Mayor Sherman Lea added that social distancing is working, but everyone needs to keep at it.

“Now’s not the time to ease up, it’s put your feet on the gas,” Lea said.

Roanoke City wants to show its support for essential workers. That’s why starting Wednesday night, the city’s going to participate in the nationwide ‘Light it Blue’ campaign. The Roanoke Star, the Berglund Center and the Wells Fargo Tower will be illuminated blue through Sunday to honor first responders, health care, grocery store and any other essential employees.

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