The outbreak of COVID-19 has left first responders and hospital staff on the frontlines of protecting themselves and their patients. Cases of the coronavirus in Ohio continue to rise. On Tuesday, Dr. Amy Acton, director of the Ohio Department of Health, said that there were 564 confirmed cases and eight deaths in Ohio. There is no vaccine for the novel coronavirus.
“It has changed every aspect of our job,” said Lt. Dillon Crouse, EMS coordinator for the Chagrin Valley Fire Department.
He said that MetroHealth Medical Center, University Hospitals of Cleveland and the Cleveland Clinic have all worked together to develop one common protocol for a COVID-19 response. Dispatchers at Chagrin Valley Dispatch now ask screening questions of the caller, such as whether they have a fever, chills, cough or shortness of breath.
If the caller does show such symptoms linked to COVID-19, paramedics and emergency medical technicians wear more personal protective equipment. Lt. Crouse said that the protective equipment includes eye protection, the N95 mask, gowns and gloves. Every patient, whether they show COVID-19 symptoms or not, will also wear a mask. Research shows that some people can be carriers of the coronavirus without showing symptoms.
“We definitely train for infectious diseases and how to handle that as part of our continuing education,” Lt. Crouse said on Monday.
He said that sometimes four paramedics respond to calls, but to limit exposure, only three will go to a COVID-19 call. The driver will remain in the ambulance and the front is sealed from the rest of the vehicle. He added that police officers usually go to EMS calls, but they will not enter if there is a suspected COVID-19 case.
At the West Washington Street fire station in Chagrin Falls, the foot traffic around the building is now limited. Lt. Crouse said that firefighters cannot congregate downstairs for coffee anymore, for example. Much of the department’s training is online now, and they will soon hold their first ever monthly department meeting online.
No members of the public are allowed to enter the fire station and firefighters must take their temperature before arriving for their shift, when they arrive and during their shift.
There are also precautions in place for those who come to the emergency room at the University Hospitals Geauga Medical Center in Chardon. UH Geauga Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anthony Muni said that the hospital is doing COVID-19 testing “when clinically appropriate.” If a patient shows symptoms of the virus and is a registered patient of the UH Geauga emergency room, they may be tested. He said that testing is reserved for those who need “urgent evaluation.”
Dr. Muni said that UH Geauga did have several suspected COVID-19 patients but all tested negative as of Friday.
For patients who arrive at the emergency room, Dr. Muni said that the staff is screening them to gather information about their symptoms and whether they have been exposed to a COVID-19 patient. If so, they will immediately be separated from the rest of the waiting room. If admitted to the hospital, a person showing COVID-19 symptoms would have a single room. Dr. Muni said that staff exposure will also be limited. For example, the dietician who delivers meals would not enter the room, a nurse would.
Dr. Muni said that doctors and nurses are following the guidelines for protective equipment from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC does not require an N95 respirator, he said, which is specifically made for airborne viruses. The staff is using surgical masks because that is the guideline from the CDC and the common practice of most hospital systems, he said.
“We have to conserve supplies now and use appropriately in anticipation of a surge,” he said last week.
His best advice to the community is to stay home if you are not sick. According to Dr. Muni, there are concerned community members who have come to the hospital looking for testing, but it is not available for everyone.