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Seattle-area 911 calls actually down during pandemic, says EMT

911 calls in the Seattle area have been down in recent weeks. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

While one might expect ambulances to be out en masse during a pandemic, Seattle-area 911 calls have actually been down in recent weeks.

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One EMT didn’t want to provide his name, but he’s been on the job for about eight years. He has a family member who is a critical care nurse as well. To call it stressful right now would be an understatement, but this worker confirmed to me that 911 calls have dropped during this pandemic.

“People are staying at home and behaving,” he said. “Having bars closed reduces the amount of 911 calls. I haven’t responded to a car accident quite some time, where those were regular things.”

This EMT told me he’s hearing that many people are not calling 911, fearing they’ll end up in an ambulance ride to a hospital and risk contracting COVID-19.

“People are more mindful of going to the ER because they don’t want to go in there and catch what other people might have,” he said.

This EMT understands that concern, but he said you should always call 911 if you feel it’s necessary.

“We are there to help, and if all we do is have a little chat with you, make you feel better, and walk out the door, and you call 911 10 minutes later that’s perfectly fine,” he said.

He also told me the lack of 911 call volume has also put some EMTs out of work right now. There just isn’t the need for them, but he’s confident the calls will go back to normal at some point, and that those jobs will return.

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The other change in his life is the length of calls and the protocols around them.1

“It used to be that we would walk right in and say ‘how can I help you,'” he said.

It’s not like that any more.

“Unless there’s something extremely obvious we can see needs help right away, I stop in the doorway and from outside the door I say something like ‘does anyone inside have a cough, fever, difficulty breathing, new unusual weakness’ and things like that, so that we can ascertain whether it’s safe to go in from the get go.”

If any of those answers is yes, EMTs must go out and put on full protective gear. It’s only when transporting from certain facilities that they actually arrive at a call in full gear.

Cleaning and full disinfecting of ambulances also takes extra time.

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