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Paramedics staying in hotels, RVs to avoid spreading COVID-19 to family
VANCOUVER -- For those on the front lines of the pandemic, getting infected is just one danger. They could literally bring their work home with them and infect their loved ones as well.
That’s why some paramedics have taken the extra step of isolating themselves from their families, coming up with inventive ways of living apart from those closest to them.
“I haven’t seen my family in over 50 days,” said Tammy Lum, a Port Moody paramedic who made the decision on March 14 to isolate herself from her husband, two children and three grandchildren.
While Lum remains working in the Lower Mainland, they’re in another family home in Powell River. She has missed her granddaughter’s third birthday.
“I didn’t want to expose them to the virus by going to work,” she said.
And she’s not the only one: she says almost half of her colleagues have physically separated from family somehow because they are worried about infecting them.
Some are staying in basement suites or at their parents’ homes. Some are saying in hotels, she said. A few are staying in RVs.
“The younger ones are quite stressed out,” Lum said. “They don’t want to bring this home to their newborns or their wives.”
The measure is getting to be more common, said Bob Parkinson of the Ambulance Paramedics of B.C. Their employer is organizing hotels to help to some extent, he said.
“The risk is serious. That’s why we’ve all done these extreme measures,” he said.
But even though living apart from family members is reducing infection risk, it’s creating new danger, he said.
“Now we’re being exposed to everything we normally see, but on top of those new stresses, some are facing a lack of family support,” Parkinson said.
That extra stress is reflected in new calls to the critical incident support line, according to BCAS figures.
The number of calls in April 2019 was 130. Last month, that jumped by 81 per cent to 235.
Some 150 calls in the past three months have been about COVID-related issues.
Among the biggest challenges: getting used to personal protective equipment that is changing as their employer scrambles to source proper masks, said Parkinson.
Many BC Paramedics were just issued new styles of respirator that are reusable: the 3M 6100 series, 3M 7500 series, and the North 7700-30 series.
And, while paramedics get some information as to which calls they are on will be COVID-related, they must treat all calls as potentially infectious.
That means always using their equipment, even if putting it on could lead to a life-threatening delay.
“Paramedics got into the job to treat people,” Parkinson said. “When you start being met with delays, confrontations you’re not used to, that has heightened the stress on paramedics.”
Lum is still optimistic that the worst of the pandemic is over for British Columbia.
“We’re feeling better than we were at the beginning. We’re used to putting on the stuff. We try to make sure everyone stays away from each other as much as we can,” she said.
She may have missed her granddaughter’s birthday, but she’s optimistic she’ll be reunited with her family by the end of May, so that she doesn’t have to miss her grandson’s fifth birthday too.