1 in 6 EMS providers quarantined in New Orleans; paramedics pulled from low-priority calls

More than half the city's EMS providers have been exposed to COVID-19 but only those showing symptoms are required to self-isolate


Jeff Adelson
The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate

NEW ORLEANS — With 16% of its workers in self-isolation due to exposure to the coronavirus, New Orleans Emergency Medical Services plans to start running ambulances to non-life-threatening situations staffed solely with emergency medical technicians and not the more highly trained paramedics who are now required to be on board.

The city will also be getting an "ambulance surge" from the state to assist with medical services while it grapples with the coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, and officials are calling for volunteers to help with staffing, according to a press release issued Tuesday night.

New Orleans EMS will only be sending EMTs on calls that are not life-threatening after 16% of its personnel have been quarantined due to COVID-19. More than half of EMS providers in the city have been exposed to the disease but only those showing symptoms are required to self-isolate. (Photo/New Orleans Emergency Medical Services Facebook)
New Orleans EMS will only be sending EMTs on calls that are not life-threatening after 16% of its personnel have been quarantined due to COVID-19. More than half of EMS providers in the city have been exposed to the disease but only those showing symptoms are required to self-isolate. (Photo/New Orleans Emergency Medical Services Facebook)

At least 94 of the city's 170 EMS workers have been exposed to the virus, according to the press release. But because federal Centers for Disease Control guidelines allow medical professionals to keep working until they show symptoms, as long as they wear masks and are monitored for fever and other symptoms, only 28 have been put in isolation at home.

No EMS workers have tested positive for the virus, but many test results are pending.

To deal with the staffing crunch and a spike in calls as the city is grappling with the outbreak, EMS will relax its rules requiring that all ambulances have "advanced life support." That will allow ambulances staffed solely by EMTs to be sent to more minor injuries, such as broken bones.

"Because of the extreme increase of calls to 911, New Orleans EMS has temporarily amended policy to allow for basic life support transports," New Orleans EMS Chief Bill Salmeron said. "This will allow us to easily staff ambulances as we are experiencing a shortage in paramedics due to health reasons."

The state will also be sending "surge ambulances" to assist, and the city has approved bringing on volunteers with previous experience with New Orleans EMS to help staff ambulances.

The Orleans Parish Communications District, which runs the 911 service in New Orleans, will also be adding personnel to help people get assistance without needing an ambulance, according to the release.

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©2020 The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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