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HEMSI seeing increase in calls and coronavirus-related transportations

They're working to keep employees safe, and ask anyone who calls 911 to let the dispatcher or paramedics know if they have COVID-19 or are having symptoms so they can wear proper PPE.

Posted: Nov 26, 2020 8:47 PM

As many people are enjoying their Thanksgiving holiday, Huntsville Emergency Medical Services is out on the road answering calls and transporting patients in need.

HEMSI said it's seeing more than 10% more calls right now than they normally do this time of year.

Jon Howell, HEMSI CEO, said the ambulance workers aren't just bringing people to hospitals throughout Madison County but because of the increase in cases causing hospitals to fill up, they're also having to help shuffle patients to different hospitals that have available beds.

"At the beginning of the month we were probably running around 8% or 9% of our calls were treated as potential COVID or COVID positive and now we're somewhere between 15% and 20%," he said.

Howell explained not only is the number of people with coronavirus in the community rising, but so is the number of positive patients they have to take to the hospital.

"We also run into patients who have been given a positive COVID diagnosis and they don't even share it with us until we arrive at the hospital and they tell us well this person tested positive yesterday," he said.

Howell explained those exposures have impacted his staff.

"Six people tested positive last week. They're sick they're not in the hospital, thankfully. They are enduring the virus and symptoms that come with it," he said. "They are enduring the virus and symptoms that come with it. We're tired too."

Currently, Howell explained about 2,300 people in Madison County are in quarantine from being exposed to the virus or testing positive.

"About three weeks ago that number was less than 1,000 so we've seen significant increase here in the last three weeks and we saw numbers in the five hundreds a month before that. We've just seen a tremendous increase through October now into November," he said.

He hopes people in the community will do the right thing throughout the holiday season to stop the spread of the virus.

"This is a time where we need to pay close attention and we need to follow the public health measures and be very conservative with the number of times we get around a group of people and for Thanksgiving. I'm hoping people will understand the need celebrate thanksgiving this year either remotely, through electronic means or to plan for thanksgiving with family at a later time when it's safer," he said.

Currently, about 20% of the calls HEMSI is responding to have either a COVID-19 positive patient or someone who has COVID-19 so HEMSI workers are having to gear up in head-to-toe PPE.

"We're using gowns that can be laundered. We're using a lot of face shields that can be disinfected and decontaminated. A lot of our employees are using elastomeric respirators that are reusable and we can exchange filters on. We also have the federal government helping set up a decontamination system in Birmingham that we can send our N-95 respirators through where we can get them decontaminated where we can use them," he said.

Howell said starting next week they're planning on upping staffing and adding more ambulances to the streets to help spread out the calls each team of paramedics responds to.

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