First responders are on the front lines of the latest health crisis that involves spread of the novel coronavirus COVID-19. Around the country – and around the world – EMS departments are facing the uncertainties of a rapidly-spreading virus. One problem is a shortage of face masks. As cases surge, it will also be harder for ambulance companies to get other needed supplies.

In King County, Wash., an epicenter of COVID-19 cases in the United States, Kirkland, Wash., firefighters and Kirkland police officers were placed under quarantine after an outbreak at a senior care facility. Firefighters were either quarantined at home or at a local fire station.

These first responders came in contact with the coronavirus at Life Care Center of Kirkland, where dozens of residents and staff were infected.

Quarantine for IAFF members

Some members of the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) in Washington state were under quarantine for possible exposure to COVID-19.It is not the first time EMS has acted as the canary in the coal mine to protect the public"

The heightened role of fire and EMS professionals is playing out everywhere. “It is not the first time EMS has acted as the canary in the coal mine to protect the public,” Oren Barzilay of the New York EMT union told the New York Daily News. “And it won’t be the last.”

FDNY Not Sending Firefighters to COVID-19 Calls

The Fire Department of New York (FDNY) has stopped sending firefighters to answer medical calls that describe symptoms associated with the coronavirus. Instead, calls for asthma attacks, fever, coughs and difficult breathing are being handled by the Emergency Medical Service.

Fire companies with certified first responder (CFR) training, which would ordinarily accompany ambulances on such calls, are being asked to “stand down.” The order refers to “Segment 2” calls, although firefighters will continue to respond to higher priority “Segment 1” calls.

Union complaint in Boston

When coronavirus testing began taking place at Faulkner Hospital in Boston, Mass., the EMS union complained because paramedics working at the facility were not notified of the possible workplace contamination. The EMT substation at the hospital includes a bunk room and contains equipment and supplies. The union complained to the Boston Public Health Commission, which provided assurances they were doing “everything in [their] power to protect EMTs and paramedics.”

East Pierce, Wash., Fire and Rescue Assistant Chief Russ McCallion created a checklist for medics and fire crews to consider when responding to a potential coronavirus patient. He reminds crews to perform “doorway triage” of patients to decide when to wear protective equipment and when to use special entryways at the hospital reserved for people in isolation.Complicating the decision-making processes is the fact that flu symptoms and COVID-19 symptoms are similar

Complicating the decision-making processes is the fact that flu symptoms and COVID-19 symptoms are similar. “We have to maintain the high index of suspicion on every call [if] the patient presents with fever, coughing and other flu-type symptoms,” McCallion told National Public Radio. Fire crews are now instructed to wait outside when responding to such calls. They wait while a few medics enter, suited up with personal protection equipment such as gowns, gloves and masks.

Dedicated ambulance in San Antonio

In San Antonio, a dedicated ambulance is used to transport patients suspected of COVID-19 infection. The interior walls of the dedicated ambulance are covered completely with plastic sheets. The vehicle will be dedicated to the COVID-19 mission “throughout” and will not be used on the streets of San Antonio.

Congress has approved emergency funding for states. The money will be used for testing, to track those who are sick, and for awareness campaigns to slow the spread of the virus. 

Public health emergency

A public health emergency has been declared by the U.S. Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) as of Jan. 31. The declaration enables state, tribal and local health departments to request funding, supplies and resources from DHHS to respond to COVID-19.The declaration enables state, tribal and local health departments to request funding, supplies and resources

China alerted the World Health Organization in December to several cases of an unusual pneumonia in Wuhan, a port city of 11 million people in the central Hubei province. In January, officials identified the new virus as belonging to the coronavirus family, which includes SARS and the common cold. It was named COVID-19 and has since spread to all of mainland China and later throughout the world.

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Larry Anderson Editor, TheBigRedGuide.com, Notting Hill Media

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