Klugers FS Aug 1 – Sept. 4 2019

Paramedics are used to braving the unknown, but the COVID-19 pandemic has increased the uncertainty of their day-to-day work.

Ethan Stratman, a lieutenant and EMT at Flossmoor Fire Department, said paramedics walk into every call assuming the person could have COVID-19. They put on personal protective equipment, including N95 respirator masks, gloves and eye protection.

If the dispatcher confirms or suspects a caller has COVID-19 or lives with someone who has the virus, paramedics wear cover-all decontamination suits. Stratman said they also wear them when responding to calls in a potential “hot spot.”

Provided photo/Heather O'Malley  Residents set out candles on April 1 in support of health care workers. The project was called "Let There Be Light."
Residents set out candles on April 1 in support of health care workers. The project was called “Let There Be Light.” (Provided photo/Heather O’Malley)

With all this preparation, along with disinfecting the ambulance interior after a call, Stratman said they’re pressed for time like never before.

“We’re overwhelmed. We had our busiest year for call volume last year and it’s holding true this year,” he said. “Now with COVID, a regular ambulance call that would take an hour can take drastically longer.”

In addition to visiting people’s homes, EMTs are exposed to COVID-19 when they drop off patients they transported to the hospital. In each case, they must linger at the hospital while completing reports.

“The place I’m most worried about picking it up is at the hospitals, actually,” Stratman said.

While those having a medical emergency are urged to go to the hospital, the health care community is advising the public to stay home if they’re sick with COVID. Though they may feel awful during the illness, most people — especially younger and healthier people — will recover from the illness.

Stratman said EMTs sometimes encounter patients with COVID who want to be taken to the hospital when directives indicate they should recover at home.

“We suggest and implore that person stay home and self isolate rather than going to the hospital,” Stratman said. “The medical community is stretched pretty thin right now. If they go to the hospital, they’re going to expose other patients and health care staff.”

They also respond to calls in which people are unnecessarily worried or even panicked that they have COVID-19, Stratman said.

EMTs are staying on the job, even if they’re exposed to COVID-19, unless they exhibit symptoms of the illness. At first, they were instructed to self-isolate for 14 days before returning to work. Soon, however, the regulation changed.

“I think they realized how quickly they would run out of us,” Stratman said. “The situation is super dynamic because it’s a new virus, so everything is constantly changing. It’s not static. Everything is on the fly.”

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