FEMA Teams Could Respond to Coronavirus in NJ
New Jersey is no stranger to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
FEMA is the lead agency charged with helping to rebuild after a major hurricane or tropical storm hits our coast. After Superstorm Sandy caused more than $70 billion in damage, FEMA was the lead rebuilding agency. It has distributed billions in disaster relief aid and grants.
FEMA teams could return to New Jersey in the month ahead — bot to help with hurricane relief, but to deal with any outbreak of the novel coronavirus, also known as COVID-19.
NBC News was the first to obtain internal documents showing FEMA officials are preparing for President Donald Trump to make an “infectious disease emergency declaration” under the 1988 Stafford Act. The Stafford Act grants the president broad powers to use FEMA teams and funding to respond to disease outbreaks.
In 2000, President Bill Clinton used the Stafford Act to send FEMA resources to New Jersey and New York to deal with an outbreak of West Nile virus. No dedicated FEMA offices were set up during that declaration, but up to $5 million in federal aid was authorized to help state and local governments respond to the mosquito borne virus.
If Trump were to invoke the Stafford Act for coronavirus, it’s not yet clear how that would look. Money from the FEMA disaster relief fund could be redirected to help state and local governments respond to any outbreak, but response teams could also be sent into areas where outbreaks are severe. The teams could set up mobile hospitals and provide secure transport. In New Jersey, officials have already designated the Joint Base McGuire as a possible quarantine location.
To date, New Jersey has tested multiple people for possible coronavirus, and each has come up negative. This week, it was testing another possible case — that person was not hospitalized and did not have a fever, the state's health commissioner has said.
State officials have advised school districts to be prepared to close in the event of an outbreak in our state. Newark Liberty International Airport is also one of only a few airports in the U.S. still permitted to receive passengers arriving from mainland China.
All of these preparations, officials say, are out of an abundance of caution and the risk of infection remains low. WPG has prepared a guide with what you need to know about the current outbreak. The guide can be found here.