While a large majority of British Columbians are following the recommendations of provincial medical health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry to self-isolate in these uncertain times, several groups, including first responders, continue to work on the frontlines.
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, frontline medical workers have had to dramatically change their routines to adapt to the virus.
That being said, viruses are nothing new — BC Emergency Health Services (BCEHS) paramedics have long been trained in how to approach, screen and assess patients with signs and symptoms of suspected infectious diseases.
Before the introduction of COVID-19, BCEHS had established an infection prevention and control plan which prioritizes the safety of patients and the safety of their paramedics. All BCEHS call-takers and dispatchers are on alert for any Influenza-Like Illness (ILI) symptoms and flag them in the dispatch system.
However, some things have changed.
“Responding to potential COVID-19 calls on a regular basis can be mentally and physically exhausting,” said Michael Boyarksi, BCEHS Central Okanagan District manager of patient care delivery.
In addition to the increased fatigue on frontline medical workers, the coronavirus has resulted in several changes to BCEHS’s process and procedures.
If a patient is suspected of exposure to COVID-19, BCEHS paramedic specialists are also notified to help guide paramedics in their response.
With community transmission of COVID-19, BCEHS has also revised its personal protective equipment (PPE) protocols to protect the health and safety of paramedics. Paramedics now respond to every call, and any patient interaction, wearing gloves, an N95 mask and face shield.
However, BCEHS stressed this does not necessarily mean they are responding to a COVID-19 patient.
The organization reiterated that responding to infectious illness, or potential COVID-19 calls on a regular basis, can be both physically and mentally exhausting for paramedics, particularly when it’s part of their average daily call volume of approximately 1,400 emergency calls daily across the province.
“The dedication and resolve I’ve seen from our crews to provide patient care across the Okanagan are second to none,” said Boyarski.
“I am honoured to lead and serve beside them.”
The district manager thanked individuals for staying home and socially distancing.
“It helps protect our paramedics on the frontline,” he said.
Despite difficult times, Boyarski said he has seen an overwhelming amount of support from local businesses and the general public for all healthcare workers including paramedics.
“We really are in this together,” he said.
BCEHS reminded the public they should only call 911 for medical emergencies.
Also, the organization stressed that their 911 call takers and dispatchers cannot provide COVID-19 updates or information.
For non-medical COVID-19 questions, individuals should call 811 or the provincial helpline service at 1-888-COVID19 (1-888-268-4319).