As the coronavirus spreads in the United States, first responders are scrambling to keep up, with key direction on how to protect themselves lagging behind the unprecedented threat. (A recent report in The New York Times placed first responders high among workers who face the greatest coronavirus risk.)
Local fire and emergency services departments are rehearsing their infectious disease protocols and taking new precautions as 911 calls pour in related to the coronavirus outbreak.
Around the country, EMS departments are preparing. One concern they share is a looming shortage of masks.
Leslee Stein-Spencer, a program advisor at the National Association of State EMS Officials says State EMS directors are worried agencies could run out “in the next couple weeks.”
According to a report on NPR, one fire chief says: “One of the confounding issues for our responders is that flu symptoms and COVID-19 symptoms are very similar,” he says. “We have to maintain that high index of suspicion on every call where the patient presents with fever, coughing and other flu-type symptoms.”
His fire crews are now instructed to initially wait outside when responding to such calls, while only a few medics go inside, suited up in personal protective equipment, like gowns, gloves, and masks.
According to the LA Times, The Los Angeles PD (LAPD) is working to keep officers healthy, amid fears coronavirus could impact first responders. To help prevent its officers from getting sick, the department has issued a series of new guidelines and procedures.
Los Angeles Police Asst. Chief Horace Frank said all patrol officers and officers likely to come into contact have been issued a kit consisting of multiple sets of gloves, a bacteria protection mask, and goggles.
Officers are directed to use all three items when during a response or public contact they learn of a possible individual with the virus.
According to a ProPublica report, there are about 20,000 emergency medical service agencies in the country, with oversight that looks different in each state and assets that fluctuate wildly. About a third of the states depend on volunteer organizations. The system is staffed thin and designed to share people and resources regionally during major disasters. But now these agencies are facing a sweeping global pandemic that could infect patients in every jurisdiction.
Mark Komins, EMS Director at Safety Unlimited, Inc says: ” First responders face sick and injured people every day. With this new virus as well as many others, responders have to be cautious to not take it home to their families. “
Jules Griggs, President and CEO of Safety Unlimted, Inc and former Fire Captain with the VCFD, says, ” By and large, responders already manage infectious control as part of their day to day jobs, but now they are just being a little more diligent.”
Griggs adds: “One major concern is we need to get testing done for those first responders as soon as possible. And they are being developed now at a good rate since the red tape has been removed. Although, I hear people saying we should have had test kits already stockpiled in advance, which is really unrealistic. We cannot have test kits for viruses that do not exist yet. ”
“Again, we just need to have a system in place for the development of test processes and treatments that capitalized on our private sector resources and cuts down on the bureaucracy that typically occurs.”