'We're doing as best as we can': EMS crews modifying protocols to stay safe during coronavirus outbreak

Published on Sunday, 5 April 2020 19:52


BRISTOL - Local EMS crews are being “hyper vigilant” in protecting themselves from patients who could have the coronavirus.

Any medic that is exposed to someone who may have the virus is required to wear a mask for 14 days while they’re around colleagues and patients, said Jodie Kay, paramedic operations supervisor at Bristol Health EMS. They are only allowed to stop wearing it at work once the possible exposure patient receives test results.

“So far, so good,” Kay said, when asked if any medics have contracted the virus. “We’ve had a few exposures.”

In light of the COVID-19 outbreak, EMS crews have modified protocols in a number of ways at the direction of medical director Dr. Andrew Lim. Calls for service are screened by dispatchers - who ask whether a patient has had a cough, fever, exposure to someone with the virus and other questions.

“We only send in one crew member,” if a patient is considered to possibly have the virus, which in EMS lingo is known as a “20-33” call, Kay said. She added the medic maintains six feet of distance between the patient.

That person, who is wearing personal protective equipment, then takes the lead, determines if the patient is at risk of having the virus and infecting others, and directs other crew members on what to do. Before the coronavirus outbreak, PPE for medics generally didn’t go beyond wearing gloves.

Now medics are using gloves, gowns, masks and goggles.

As for a supply count, Kay said, “right now we are doing OK.”

Kay also said crews are refraining from bringing equipment into homes.

“We don’t want to infect anything,” Kay said.

If a patient is unconscious or unable to communicate whether they could have COVID-19, Kay said EMS crews are leaving nothing to chance. The entire crew will wear their full PPE in those situations.

“We’re going to assume the worst,” Kay said. “We’re just being hyper vigilant.”

While local medics have concerns about contracting the virus, they say they are taking the necessary steps to protect themselves so they can continue to be available to respond to emergencies.

“I think we’re all kind of worried,” said Melissa Patrick, Bristol Health EMT. “We have to be more cautious as the pandemic continues. We’re doing as best as we can.”

Kevin Boi, a Bristol paramedic, said doing his job during the outbreak has been all about adapting.

“It’s the same job we signed up for,” he said. “All it really is, is adapting. I wouldn’t say it’s any more difficult.”

Kay stated EMS is pretty adaptable, adding other viruses and diseases, such as Ebola, have presented themselves over the years.

“We worry about someone being infected with something no matter what day it is,” Kay said.

For things to run as smoothly as possible for first responders during the pandemic, Boi has a message to nonessential workers: “Stay home.”

Going out for groceries or other supplies is fine, he continued, but taking unnecessary joy rides can lead to more car accidents and further exposures for medics that could have been avoided.

Justin Muszynski can be reached at 860-973-1809 or jmuszynski@bristolpress.com

Posted in New Britain Herald, General News on Sunday, 5 April 2020 19:52. Updated: Sunday, 5 April 2020 19:55.