North Carolina: Bracing for the COVID-19 storm

Dr. Larry Greenblatt, left, interviewed by Rosa Saavedra, an organizer at Bread for the World.

“Like a hurricane coming,” is how Dr. Larry Greenblatt, a professor of medicine at Duke University School of Medicine described the calm before the COVID-19 storm arrived in the Triangle Region of North Carolina.

Greenblatt and Dr. Eric Westman, associate professor of medicine at Duke University School of Medicine, asked themselves: “How do we get people prepared?” The answer they decided was face masks.

Very quickly, the two men launched Covering the Triangle, a community effort to recruit volunteers to sew face masks. Seamstresses from the Carolina Ballet together with a mattress factory redirected their work to making the masks.

The masks are being delivered to at-risk groups living under conditions that make social distancing difficult: the homeless, seniors in assisted living facilities, migrant workers in group housing, and prison populations. In the first week, the initiative provided 12,000 face masks.

Demand continues to grow, assisted by high-profile advocates like Steve Schewel, the mayor of Durham, N.C., and reports in local news affiliates.

Dr. Greenblatt was interviewed by Rosa Saavedra, a Bread for the World organizer in North Carolina, about the face mask initiative. She asked him about the role nutrition plays in the prevention of the coronavirus and its recovery.

“Certainly, we know that people who are weakened because they can’t afford to eat healthy foods or don’t have enough food,” Greenblatt said. “They’re going to be more susceptible to any infection, and that includes the coronavirus, and more likely to be a severe case.”

Without nutrition to boost immune systems, no individual is well prepared to fight COVID-19 when it arrives in their community.

One couldn’t ask for a more teachable moment than this to demonstrate that hunger and malnutrition are public health issues, relevant to health outcomes at all times, not just during crises on the scale of a pandemic.

This article was written by Todd Post, senior researcher, writer, and editor at Bread for the World Institute.

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