ELIZABETH CITY, N.C. -- Kevin Kupietz's classroom at Elizabeth City State University remains closed, but he was called on two separate missions back in February and March in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Kupietz, the Emergency Management Program Coordinator at ESCU, also teaches classes on the subject.
"I spent time in Georgia while we were actually working with some of the initial cruise ship passengers," Kupietz told News 3 as he recalled one of his missions, "and were asked to isolate themselves and they did that for 14 days."
These passengers were impacted by COVID-19. Kupietz was called out because he is part of the National Disaster Medical System, a federal unit that provides medical resources and services in disaster-stricken areas. They work in conjunction with state and local authorities, as well as FEMA.
His first mission consisted of setting up isolation areas to where cruise ship passengers impacted by the pandemic were transported to be quarantined. The second mission involved providing those passengers with food, but overall it was to help those that needed assistance.
"If you can imagine coming off a cruise ship and now you’re being held for building for isolation for 14 days, it’s quite a difference," he said.
He said he did not experience negative moments of problems with the passengers. He said they, "were very nice, very understanding. It was a joy to actually work with them."
Those experiences, he said, are what make the job rewarding.
His experiences also serve as a lesson to his students.
"When I talk to my students about how we prepare for dealing with disasters and the social dimensions of that, the word of the day is 'empathy,'" Kupietz said. "You kind of have to put yourself in that person’s shoes."
His experiences are also something he uses as a teaching tool to teach his emergency management classes. He said he has been on calls with students while in Georgia.
"The students told me that all the time," Kupietz said, "how impressive it is that they actually get to hear about the real-world stuff versus just what the textbook talks about."
He said he is self-isolating as a precaution now that he is back home in North Carolina. Though he worked with people who had COVID-19, he said he felt fine.