Coronavirus puts squeeze on disaster relief

(NBC News) The coronavirus pandemic is challenging disaster relief response across the country by cutting into critical volunteer support.

Many of those volunteers fall into high risk categories, forcing organizations to rethink how to safely respond.

Seventy-five percent of the Salvation Army’s volunteers are over 65 years old.

“We are encouraging volunteers at a high risk for infection not to volunteer or volunteer in capacities that allow for greater social distancing,” says the Salvation Army’s Tameka Sharp.

It’s a tough call to make as the country braces for severe weather and prime disaster conditions.

An association of non-profits called the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters estimates they’ll be able to send in about half as many volunteers as usual.

“We’re going to have to rely more heavily on local community based volunteers than we have in the past,” says National VOAD’s Greg Forrester.

Instead of dispatching large groups of volunteers they may just send leadership to train local residents.

The Salvation Army offering virtual training and may also supplement volunteer ranks with paid staff members.

“What we want people to know if we’ll take every precautionary measure,” Sharp says.

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