In the age of COVID-19, every 911 call requires taking extra precautions

Updated: May. 20, 2020 at 3:41 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Healthcare workers make up roughly 20% of the country’s COVID-19 cases, according to the CDC.

But in Honolulu, EMS crews working the front lines have remained virus-free.

That’s largely because of safety protocols that mean a lot more care goes into every single 911 call. “The dispatchers do their best to screen but sometimes we won’t have that information whether or not someone’s been exposed,” said paramedic Manahel Al-Hozail.

“At bare minimum we are going in with gloves, N-95s and eye protection. It takes a few more minutes for each call.”

Every shift, Honolulu’s EMS crews risk exposure.

Over the past couple months, Al-Hozail says she’s treated more than a few patients suspected of having the coronavirus. “At least 20 that have kind of been concerning for me personally,” she said.

Lt. Gov. Josh Green says it’s the state’s responsibility to ensure EMS professionals are equipped with the proper personal protective gear. “If one of our people gets sick, then two, then 10. If we lost that capacity we would be completely laid bare to the virus," he said.

Green told HNN the state’s goal is to never drop below a 60-day supply and says orders are being placed on a weekly basis.

“All that’s necessary to help them be safe while they’re saving people’s lives,” he said.

The toll that all the extra equipment has on paramedics and EMTs is physically challenging.

“Although our call volume is down slightly, they are working harder every shift, every call,” said Honolulu EMS sssistant Chief of Operations Korey Chock.

After each suspected COVID call, it takes between 20 and 40 minutes to decontaminate an ambulance. While the extra steps ensure there’s no spread of the virus, it also means EMS crews have no time for nonsense.

“Only calling 911 for emergencies would be super helpful,” said Al-Hozail. “Stay on top of your prescriptions. Don’t let it run out to the point where you have a medical emergency.”

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