911 swamped with virus calls; non-urgent inquiries should go to 811

B.C. paramedics are reporting that 75 per cent of recent calls to 911 ambulance dispatch are related to suspicions of COVID-19 or other influenza-type symptoms.

They urge citizens to call 911 only if they are in distress or experiencing an emergency that may require immediate care and attention.

“We understand the community may be scared, but we’ve observed some people are calling 911 seeking a COVID-19 evaluation from ambulance dispatchers and paramedics when emergency care or hospitalization are not required,” said Troy Clifford, president of Ambulance Paramedics and Emergency Dispatchers of B.C.

This can tie-up dispatchers and ambulance crews during an unprecedented time in history and potentially delay more serious calls”

He advises people to first call 811 (or 711 for the hard of hearing) to get advice from HealthLink B.C. Translation services for up to 130 languages is also supported.

People can also use the COVID-19 Symptom Self-Assessment tool on the HealthLinkBC.ca website.

It gives information on who should and should not be tested, on when to just stay at home and self-isolate, when to call your doctor or health provider and the appropriate circumstances to call 911 or go to the nearest emergency department.

We understand there is a heightened awareness to COVID-19, but we try to emphasize that calling 811 can steer people to the right resources and free up 911 dispatchers to respond to emergencies,” Clifford said.

He said that some ambulance paramedics have reported some people with a genuine emergency are refusing to be transported to hospital because of fears about COVID-19.

Obviously, if someone requires hospitalization, ambulance paramedics are highly trained and ensure that people get the right care and transport, as required,” said Clifford.

Like all frontline workers, our employer has provided guidelines and protocols to ensure safety, reduce exposure, and prevent transmission of COVID-19, including doing the initial assessment in the doorway while standing a minimum of six feet away, along with using the proper protective equipment.”

For more information, go to healthlinkbc.ca or call 811.

  • B.C. has set up a dedicated COVID-19 line at 1-888-COVID19 or text 1-888-268-4319