Emergency medical technicians and paramedics are on the frontlines of the nation's response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The work takes a physical and emotional toll on these first responders who are responsible for taking coronavirus patients to the hospital.
David Goroff, a paramedic in Lower Merion, Pennsylvania, says his department has been responding to 10 to 15 coronavirus-related 911 calls a day, many of them from nursing facilities in the area. He says he recently responded to a 911 call at a nursing facility where there were three patients in the room “definitely within six feet.”
“I was there for one of the patients who had a new onset of fever, cough, shortness of breath, all very consistent with the coronavirus,” Goroff says. “And you're looking in that room and thinking, 'I'm going to be back here in the next week for all of the roommates.' And it's a very scary thought.”
There have been nearly 3,000 coronavirus cases and 172 deaths in Montgomery County as of Wednesday afternoon, with Lower Merion and surrounding townships shouldering the brunt of those cases, according to local government data. The number of new cases each day is going down, but Goroff says the number of coronavirus-related 911 calls “has remained relatively steady.”
Like the rest of the country, Goroff says his department has dealt with supply chain issues for personal protective equipment [PPE]. On all coronavirus-related 911 calls, his team members wear Tyvek suits, N95 masks or P100 masks, gloves and goggles.
911 operators ask callers a series of coronavirus-related questions so that paramedics are prepared to respond safely. But Goroff says sometimes people don’t answer these questions truthfully because they are afraid the paramedics won’t help them.
“People shouldn't be afraid to be honest with first responders, with the 911 dispatchers and operators because help will come either way,” he says. “It's just we're going to take kind of elevated precautions if we are trying to avoid us being infected by a patient.”
Since the outbreak ramped up in the area, Goroff says the physical toll of the work has been “manageable,” despite the number of employees in his department who have been out sick. Twelve staff members, including five full-time employees, were out sick during the area’s peak, he says.
Working as a paramedic is inherently stressful, but Goroff says this is different because the stress never stops. It’s hard to move on from traumatic events when they are ongoing, he says.
“We've been kind of in the midst of this now for more than a month, and every single day they know they're going to treat one of these patients, and they're going to have to do it again and again and again,” he says. “And they're risking bringing this back to their family, and that stress is continuous and we don't see kind of an end in sight.”
This segment aired on April 22, 2020.