The COVID-19 safer-at-home and social distancing guidelines were implemented with our health in mind, but for some the message has struck so extreme, they are putting their own lives at risk.
Nationwide — including in the Coulee Region — emergency calls are down, with individuals so scared of contracting the coronavirus they avoid addressing signs of heart attack, stroke or other ailments where rapid intervention is of the essence.
“It’s an interesting phenomenon that’s happening,” says Nick Eastman, program manager of clinical services for Gundersen Tri-State Ambulance. “People are afraid of going to the hospital during the pandemic, or are marginalizing their symptoms because they assume the hospitals are too busy with COVID-19. We are here to respond to any emergencies just like we always were.”
While even pre-pandemic, some people have deferred calling 911 for help, not wanting to be a burden, there has been a distinct decline in ambulance calls since the local onset of COVID-19.
There seems to be a perceived spike in workload, Eastman said, when in actuality the number of ambulance transports have decreased significantly, due to both those hesitant to break quarantine and the reduction of patients being transferred between facilities.
Concerningly, hospitals in other states are seeing a surge of in-home cardiac arrest deaths during COVID-19, a dilemma that has not yet presented locally but is troubling to Eastman.
“Our fear is being on the same path as New York or Fort Worth where people with clear symptoms of heart attack or stroke are not calling,” Eastman says. “Time is brain in a stroke and time is muscle in a heart attack. Minutes can change the outcome.”
The Fire Department of New York reported earlier this month a nearly 400% increase in cardiac arrest fatalities in the victim’s place of residency between March 20 and April 5.
In Fort Worth, MedStar crews responded to 38% more cardiac arrest incidents so far this month compared to the same period in April 2019. Of the April 2020 cases, 54% more patients were declared dead on the scene, according to the local Fort Worth NBC station.
Eastman reassures those hesitant to call Tri-State Ambulance that its staff is fully equipped with the proper personal protective equipment and ventilators. In addition, employees are screened before their shift and are not allowed to work if they show any signs of illness or fever.
“We are well-prepared to provide care while protecting the patients and us,” Eastman says.
Emergency calls, however, should as always be saved for critical situations.
Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a increase in calls due to individuals concerned they had the coronavirus, worried about exposure or angered about restrictions on testing for the virus. These calls, Eastman reminds, should be reserved for the hospital’s nurses line or the person’s direct provider, who will send the emergency team if deemed necessary.
Those experiencing severe symptoms of COVID-19, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have expanded to include bluish lips, shortness or breath, confusion or chest pressure, should reach out immediately.
The May 31 event was hosted by the Wisconsin National Guard and funded by the federal government.
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Emily Pyrek can be reached at email@example.com.
"People are afraid of going to the hospital during the pandemic, or are marginalizing their symptoms because they assume the hospitals are too busy with COVID-19. We are here to respond to any emergencies just like we always were."
Nick Eastman, program manager of clinical services for Gundersen Tri-State Ambulance
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