B.C. paramedics see surge in 911 calls for COVID-19, reluctance to go to hospital for other issues
VANCOUVER -- With the novel coronavirus continuing to spread, paramedics and ambulance dispatchers in B.C. are seeing some changing trends in the calls they're receiving.
According to the Ambulance Paramedics of BC, three quarters of calls coming into dispatchers are from people concerned about their flu-like symptoms and asking if they have contracted COVID-19.
As a result of that influx, first responders are asking people to stop calling 911 unless they have a genuine emergency.
"We understand the community may be scared, but we've observed some people are calling 911 seeking a COVID-19 evaluation from ambulance dispatchers and paramedics when emergency care or hospitalization are not required," said Troy Clifford, president of Ambulance Paramedics of B.C and Emergency Dispatchers of B.C., in a news release.
"This can tie-up dispatchers and ambulance crews during an unprecedented time in history and potentially delay more serious calls."
That doesn't necessarily mean calls overall are increasing, however. In fact, ambulance dispatchers have seen fewer calls for other types of emergencies, possibly because people are staying at home during the pandemic.
"With a large chunk of our population in self-isolation at home, ambulance dispatchers say they are receiving fewer calls about car accidents, falls, assaults, and workplace accidents," Clifford said.
Paramedics also say patients are reluctant to go to the hospital because they're concerned they might get the novel coronavirus.
But Clifford says paramedics are highly trained for these situations and have guidelines in place.
"Like all frontline workers, our employer has provided guidelines and protocols to ensure safety, reduce exposure, and prevent transmission of COVID-19, including doing the initial assessment in the doorway while standing a minimum of six feet away, along with using the proper protective equipment," he said.
"Ambulance paramedics urge British Columbians not to hesitate to call 911 in a true emergency, as first-responders and healthcare workers have put strict measures in place to reduce exposure to the virus."
An earlier version of this story attributed statistics on the number of calls about flu-like symptoms to the B.C. Emergency Health Service. In fact, those numbers came from the Ambulance Paramedics of BC, a union which represents paramedics and dispatchers who work for BCEHS.