The provincial ambulance service is undertaking preparations in light of the dangers posed by COVID-19.
New Brunswick's ambulance service is ramping up preparedness to deal with the spread and threat posed by COVID-19. Paramedics were already equipped with personal protective equipment (PPE) designed to deal with a variety of harmful pathogens. This past week introduced further enhancements to that equipment with the acquisition of disinfectants rated to kill the SARS-CoV-2 virus, more masks, gowns, and additional machines designed to specially disinfect ambulances.
The way requests for Paramedics are processed has also been enhanced. Individuals requesting Paramedics are now pre-screened for high risk symptoms or events, such as recent travel or interaction with someone who has traveled. Should a risk be identified, that information is immediately conveyed to responding Paramedics, prompting them to don the appropriate personal protective equipment before entering the scene.
The system seems to be working well but with any system, it isn't going to be perfect.
Paramedics understand the risks they face every day. Studies have shown they face a similar risk of fatal injury as Police Officers and Fire Fighters and twice the risk of non-fatal injuries as other first responders in the performance of their duties.
In short, the job of a Paramedic is dangerous.
This fact became apparent when Italy reported that a healthy 47-year-old Paramedic had died after contracting COVID-19. Italy has been hit hard by the outbreak and healthcare professionals are struggling to provide service to those in need.
With the increased risk to responders and their patients, fire departments across NB have decided to cease their response to most medical calls. In a statement to reporters, Chief of the Moncton Fire Department, Conrad Landry stated, "We want to protect both: not just our Fire Fighters but the public as well." Landry went on to say that this is a step to ensure Fire Fighters are available for their key responsibilities, like fires and rescues.
Paramedics will still be able to request the assistance of Fire Fighters once on scene, should they deem it necessary.
Concerns about a "surge."
Paramedics are recommending everyone follow the advice of Public Health Officials and make every attempt to "flatten the curve." This includes practicing social distancing, washing your hands frequently, and ensuring one self-isolates should they become ill.
Paramedics are hopeful that the directives from Public Health will be followed, preventing a surge in individuals requiring more definitive care, but like any situation they respond to, Paramedics believe they are not in the business of taking chances.
The ambulance service is continually increasing and evolving its response to the ongoing situation. This includes word that Paramedics deployed in Rapid Response Units will soon be performing at-home testing for COVID-19. Ambulance New Brunswick has also put a hold on the posting of new positions and has asked all Paramedics to consider cancelling their vacation to allow for "all hands on deck."
Paramedics will continue to remain vigilant and follow all directives from Public Health and Ambulance New Brunswick.
Joel Mattatall, an Advanced Care Paramedic based in Moncton, said,
"It's important that Paramedics take the threat posed by COVID-19 seriously and take all the necessary precautions to protect themselves from contracting and spreading the virus. There would be nothing worse than a surge occurring and you're sidelined due to testing positive, leaving your colleagues to fight this short-handedly. I fully agree with Ambulance New Brunswick, we are going to need all hands on deck."
Paramedics wish to remind everyone who is calling 911 to be completely honest with the call-taker, to ensure responding crews take necessary precautions.
For more information about the SARS-CoV-2 virus and how you can protect yourself, visit: https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/diseases/2019-novel-coronavirus-infection.html