Metro Vancouver's emergency dispatch centre in East Vancouver is seeing a surge of calls about COVID-19, but not all of them are from people with symptoms of the virus.
“We‘re also starting to see quite a few more people calling in to report folks who aren’t abiding by the physical distancing measures that need to be taken right now, wanting to report people who have just recently come back from being abroad and aren’t self-isolating,” said Jasmine Bradley, the communications manager for E-COMM.
While it is now against the law for people returning to Canada to leave their 14-day self isolation, Bradley says reporting your neighbours is not what 911 is for, and those calls are taking dispatchers away from real emergencies.
“We have received some calls from people complaining that the grocery store line-ups are too long. Not only is that frustrating, its scary. We’re in this together and we really need to make sure we’re protecting our emergency resources,” said Bradley. “We’re gonna be relying on the public help to make sure 911 lifelines are kept free for reporting emergencies where police, fire and ambulance are required to attend right away.”
The president of Ambulance Paramedics of B.C. is echoing that plea, adding that people with mild symptoms or those looking for advice about COVID-19 shouldn’t call 911 either.
“Call their physicians, call 811 – the provincial health line – if its simply for advice or questions around COVID, that’s where they should be steering their calls,” said Troy Clifford.
But, he doesn’t want people with real health emergencies to be afraid to call for help.
“They don’t want to be a burden because they know we’re overworked,” said Clifford. “If they’re truly having an emergency, whether its suspicion of COVID-related or signs or symptoms of respiratory distress or anything like that that are true emergencies and they need help from paramedics, do not hesitate to call.”
Clifford knows some patients are terrified if they call 911 they’ll be taken to hospital where they may be at higher risk of contracting the virus. But he wants to assure British Columbians that paramedics are taking precautions.
“They need to know we’re there, and can take them in safely,” he said.