COVID-19 hospitalizations are up on Oahu and so are calls to 911, health experts say

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Updated: Aug. 5, 2020 at 10:56 AM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - The number of COVID-19 patients who are hospitalized in Hawaii jumped significantly Tuesday to 138. That’s up from 75 over the last week.

Lt. Gov. Josh Green said a surge in new COVID-19 cases are starting to fill up hospitals.

Meanwhile, officials at Honolulu Emergency Medical Services say they too are seeing a surge in the number of COVID-19 patients calling 911 for help.

Since the start of the pandemic, EMS crews have responded to dozens of suspected COVID-19 calls every day. What’s changed is the number of patients who have already tested positive for the virus and are in need of emergency care.

With just 21 rigs on the road each day, Honolulu EMS is responsible for serving Oahu’s nearly 1 million residents. It’s a resource that’s long been stretched thin, but lately there’s even more at stake.

“We’re seeing a pretty steady and dramatic increase in the number of known positives we’re going to,” said Christopher Sloman, acting EMS Chief.

He said even with all the new safety measures now in place, EMS crews are at risk of being infected every time they come to work.

“It could be something as simple as not cleaning one surface or one handle that could potentially cause somebody else to get sick,” Sloman said.

Since March, Honolulu EMS has transported 111 confirmed COVID-19 patients to the hospital.

No one had ever been infected until this past weekend when two paramedics at two different stations were diagnosed with the virus. As a precaution, nine more EMS workers were placed in quarantine.

“This is what happens,” said Lt. Gov. Josh Green. “First people surge. Then the health care system because physicians and medics are taking care of more patients, they end up getting sick. Then you’re in deep trouble because you don’t have the infrastructure to care for patients.”

Nationally, up to 20% of all COVID-19 cases have been healthcare workers.

Green added that with the surge in the number of hospitalizations on Oahu, more paramedics and EMTs will almost certainly get sick. “If it got bad enough I’m sure they would collaborate with their neighbor island colleagues and ask for some back-up support,” Green said.

For now, EMS is urging the public to call an ambulance only if you’re having a medical emergency and to take some personal responsibility to reduce the spread of the virus.

“By avoiding unnecessary travel, wearing masks and doing social distancing,” Sloman said.

Green said hospital capacity remains in good shape, overall. However, several facilities are seeing a surge. Green said one of Oahu’s larger hospitals is now taking care of 43 COVID-19 patients.

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