Officials with Mobile County Emergency Medical Services are reminding citizens that local ambulances are still responding to emergencies unrelated to COVID-19 and the agency is taking extra steps to ensure its vehicles and offices are being regularly sanitized to prevent the potential spread of the virus.
Mark Turner, executive director of MCEMS, told Lagniappe last week that some MCEMS medics were starting to encounter patients in the public who are apprehensive about going to local hospitals for emergency care over concerns they might be exposed to COVID-19.
As Lagniappe has reported, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations have continued to grow in Mobile County.
Turner said it is a good idea for patients with non-urgent illnesses to stay home right now, but also said none of the MCEMS staff has been impacted and ambulances are still available to transfer patients who need immediate medical care. He said medics are “begging” some people to go to the hospital.
“I fear that people that should go for other true emergencies aren’t due to being scared of the virus,” Turner said. “But MCEMS is working fiercely on decontaminating ambulances and equipment, and hospitals are doing their best to screen and separate suspected COVID-19 patients as well.”
Specifically, Turner said MCEMS has partnered with the decontamination specialists at Enviro-Master Mobile to ‘fog’ its offices and vehicles in addition to the frequent routine sterilization by staff.
Despite other agencies reporting an uptick in the transfer of patients reporting “breathing” and “respiratory problems” that are in-line with symptoms of COVID-19, Turner said that the overall volume of callouts MCEMS has seen over the past week has been lower than usual.
That’s probably at least somewhat attributable to medical facilities canceling elective and non-emergency procedures to ensure hospitals have the capacity to respond to an influx of COVID-19 cases.
Still, Turner believes part of the low call volume could also be due to people in the community who think hospitals can’t treat them and those who might be scared they could get exposed to COVID-19.
Despite those concerns, Turner said MCEMS has seen a good bit of community support. Because ambulances can’t go through drive-thrus, he said several locally-owned restaurants have partnered with the agency to provide food for its medics, which is helping MCEMS and the restaurants as well.
He also said MCEMS saw a better-than-expected turnout for a blood drive held on April 3. Turner said the staff was anticipating limited participation but actually wound up collecting nearly 40 pints of blood.
“A good day for us is normally 16 pints. So, I’m very proud of our employees and the community,” he said. “It’s my understanding they were testing for COVID-19 antibodies in the process.”
Those types of rapid serum tests can detect the presence of COVID-19 antibodies in someone’s blood, which means the body has been exposed to the disease and is either currently fighting it or recently has been.
The City of Mobile has been in the process of testing more than 800 first responders using a similar test. As of last week, 10 firefighters and 23 police officers had tested positive for COVID-19 antibodies, though only one has been confirmed through further testing to actively have the disease so far.
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