EMS crews reflect on a year of being tested ... and stress the pandemic isn’t over yet

After a year of being tested, again and again, Honolulu EMS emerges with optimism

HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - The pandemic has been hard for everyone, but those on the frontlines with the city Emergency Medical Services have been tested more than most.

With new cases low on Oahu, the number of COVID patients that Honolulu EMS is transporting has dropped dramatically over the past several months.

But the daily routine will likely never be what it was before to the pandemic.

“I’ve been doing this for 29 years,” said paramedic Don Takara. “We’ve had Ebola. We’ve had AIDS. We’ve had SARS and I’ve never felt so anxious or threatened by something before.”

Over the past year, Honolulu EMS transported more than 600 known COVID patients. But officials say the actual number is likely much higher.

“We’ve always had infectious disease and we’ve always taken it seriously,” said Takara. “But now that caution has been heightened to limits that were unknown before.”

It’s all the extra layers of personal protective equipment coupled with extensive training and stringent decontamination procedures that are credited with keeping crews healthy.

“It actually worked very well,” said Honolulu EMS Chief Jim Ireland. “We have one known full-time employee who became positive with COVID and made a full recovery.”

Getting vaccinated has also given many first responders peace of mind.

“There was some degree of relief,” Takara said. “It’s like an extra barrier.”

As of Thursday, there were just 14 patients hospitalized with coronavirus on Oahu. That’s a dramatic change compared to last August when five of the island’s hospitals were at or near capacity.

Through it all, Takara says he’s grateful for the support he and his colleagues have received over the past year.

“It was almost like 9/11 in a way as the community grew together,” he said.

With tourists slowly returning to the island, the overall call volume is creeping up. Some days it’s back to what it was before the pandemic.

“We are not at the end of this yet,” Ireland said.

But as more people get vaccinated and Hawaii inches closer to achieving herd immunity, a new sense of optimism is starting to emerge from all the suffering.

“A lot of bad stuff has happened from COVID, unfortunately,” said Takara. “But a lot of promising things will come from this. We have to be hopeful.”

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