By Tim Gannon, Suffolk Times, as Published 3/13/2020
The coronavirus outbreak has led to heightened awareness and precautions for first responders who are already trained to protect themselves when responding to calls of sick patients.
Mike Caron, assistant chief with the Riverhead Volunteer Ambulance Corps, said the process begins with an initial 911 call.
Dispatchers will ask a particular line of questioning to determine if any patients calling 911 are exhibiting signs and symptoms potentially related to the current virus, COVID-19.
The EMS agencies responding are then notified if the call is flagged if there’s a potential risk factor, Mr. Caron said.
“What I’d like to tell everybody is we operate in a constant state of vigilance against any potential threat or come in contact with any pathogen,” he said. “With the recent outbreak, we’re taking a few extra precautions. We’re reminding our personnel of the importance of hand washing and wearing proper protective equipment, if the need does arise.”
Jim Kalin, the 2nd assistant chief with the Greenport Fire Department, said when EMTs are responding to a call with a code for a patient who is coughing or has high fever, they are using protective measures such as a mask and possibly even a gown, which is an apron covering their clothing. That would happen if they’ve been notified with that code.
If the call wasn’t flagged as a risk, the EMTs on scene will still assess the situation to see if further precautions are necessary, such as discovering a family member has recently traveled or someone has been sick for several days, Mr. Kalin said.
“We are also going to limit the number of people that go inside the house or apartment so we’re not exposing more than we have to,” he said.
He added that there are no new procedures in place, just reinforcing current procedures and being more proactive.
Mr. Kalin said they’ve been advised by the Suffolk County Emergency Medical Services to follow current procedures.
“And each squad will set up their own protocols, and I believe they’re all going to be pretty much the same,” he said. “But just watching out and being a little more careful before we jump in.”
A town-wide emergency meeting was held earlier this week in Peconic with fire departments, ambulance personnel, police, hospitals and nursing homes, he said.
“That’s where a lot of the stuff set up just to see what we were doing and where we all stand,” he said.
Protocol dictates that an EMT is on board for transport in ambulance with a patient. Mr. Kalin said Greenport typically has at least two, and will try to limit the number of people in the back of an ambulance during transport.
At least eight Southold Town residents have been diagnosed with COVID-19. There have been no confirmed cases in Riverhead Town as of Wednesday night.
“We have had calls where we have taken on extra precautions where just a face mask suffices,” Mr. Caron said.
“As serious as this event is, the flu is just as serious,” he added. “Nobody wants to get the flu and be held up at home for a couple of weeks. It’s heightened everybody’s awareness and vigilance to take the necessary steps to protect ourselves.”
Mr. Caron urged the public to take necessary steps that can help such as regularly washing hands, avoiding contact with others who are sick and staying home if you’re sick.
Cutchogue Fire Department Chief Tom Shalvey said Friday that the county is aware of who is quarantined under an order.
“That information goes into the county dispatch system so we know when a call comes in,” he said.
“We are pretty good on equipment,” he added. “Our rescue captain ordered a lot of this stuff in January, and that has really worked out well for us. It’s all here and it now hard to come by. The county does have a cache of things, and we can request some from them.”
He said his department has not responded to a call related to potential coronavirus, but if they do, the ambulance would be thoroughly cleaned when it returns.