The Federal Emergency Management Agency is preparing to deploy personnel nationwide while helping the Department of Health and Human Services set up coronavirus testing centers, all while keeping the risks of dealing with the highly contagious disease in mind.
"The exposure level to deployed personnel is higher risk," Steve Reaves, president of the union representing FEMA workers, told CNN. "It's a moving target."
The agency is holding ongoing discussions about assessing risk to deployed personnel, and Reaves said it has made exceptions for people who are either under high risk of serious complications from the virus or those who fear infecting a member of their family.
President Donald Trump last week declared a national emergency, allowing state governors to use FEMA resources including supplies, and to be reimbursed by the federal government for emergency activities.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo Tuesday said his state needs FEMA and its "tremendous resources."
FEMA can also deploy personnel and coordinate between agencies, but the epidemic is not like the natural disasters the agency usually handles.
Its infrastructure and logistics support experience will come into play, including with its work in setting up coronavirus testing sites. FEMA also has the infrastructure to bring in supplies in bulk, which will be needed in states like Washington, which has requested supplies such as face masks, surgical gowns, and gloves from HHS.
A FEMA spokesman said the agency doesn't stock medical supplies but can help procure them.
The agency has worked during other health crisis incidents, including during the Zika, H1N1, and SARS outbreaks. Michael Coen, a former FEMA chief of staff during the Obama administration, said none of those outbreaks were as big as COVID-19.
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