Before the coronavirus became a pandemic, a paramedic would enter a home, sit next to the person and start treating an illness. During these times of social distancing, they’re exercising caution by calling patients to the door, and assessing the situation from three metres.
“We aways did risk assessments, but now we have a little extra diligence,” said Troy Clifford, provincial president of the Ambulance Paramedics and Emergency Dispatchers of B.C. “On the front end, we’re doing it through our dispatch centre. We’re asking additional questions to do a pre-triage, if you will.”
This can warn paramedics of an ILI (Influenza-like Illness).
Paramedics wear personal protective equipment (PPE), consisting of glasses, mask, apron or gown, face shield and gloves. Recently, the service has rolled out half masks, or half respirators, which last longer.
“It’s a cost measure, it’s also a preservation of equipment,” Clifford said. “There’s lots of adaptions we’re making. We’ve been really working through this stuff. Overall, I think we’ve done a good job. We deal with these types of crises all the time, this is just a prolonged one. Our skill sets and tools were already there.”
Emergency calls are generally down throughout the province. An exception is Cumberland, where the number of 911 calls has increased from last year, says Laurie Baird, unit chief at the Cumberland Ambulance station. She notes, however, that call volume is down in Courtenay, Comox and Black Creek.
“Nobody’s moving, so we’re not seeing our mountain bike accidents, we’re not seeing our car accidents, we’re not seeing our falls,” Baird said.
With elective surgeries on hold, Clifford said paramedics have not seen the usual transfer of patients between hospitals — simply because there aren’t as many people in hospital.
“Overall, I think people are a little apprehensive (of calling 911), trying to self-health care,” Clifford said. “Generally they’re more aware. They don’t want to be a burden. And there’s the fear of the unknown.”
Baird notes that some, even those who have suffered a stroke or heart attack, might be hesitant to call 911 due to fears of exposure to COVID-19.
“But if you’re sick and you need us, we’re here,” Baird said, noting face shields, N95 respirator masks, gloves and safety glasses are worn for every call. “With our flu-like calls, we’ve always worn PPE. We’re getting more ILI calls now. We’re used to doing what we do.”
Clifford said the protocols have always been in place. The difference now is a greater awareness of airborne risks.
“For us, it’s (COVID) not going to change business, because our precautions and protective equipment, all those measures are already in place.”
The 4,400-plus paramedics and emergency dispatchers in B.C. are grateful for the positivity displayed by the public throughout the pandemic.
Baird has been overwhelmed by the kindness of people who have brought coffee to the station, and waved and honked during the 7 p.m. salute to those on the frontline.
“It gives us the morale to face this COVID crisis,” she said.
“There’s been a lot of recognition,” Clifford added, noting the hearts in windows and chalk drawings on sidewalks. “The public has been very good through this. It’s nice to have that acknowledgment.”