COVID-19: Paramedics say calls for flu-like symptoms on rise in B.C.

Quieter streets, fewer cars on the roads, cancellation of sporting events and the closure of bars mean fewer calls to 911 for the kind of things that usually keep dispatchers busy, said Troy Clifford, president of the Ambulance Paramedics of B.C.

But that doesn’t mean things are quiet for first responders.

“On a daily basis, we are being advised that calls for suspicions of COVID-19 symptoms, or flu-like symptoms, are making up 75 per cent of our volume,” said Clifford.

Some callers simply want a COVID-19 evaluation from ambulance attendants.

That’s a problem — and it could potentially affect the delivery of emergency services to those that really need it, said Clifford. He said paramedics are ready to help in all emergencies, but if it’s not an emergency they hope people will follow the advice of health authorities and use the government’s COVID-19 self-assessment tool or call 811.

Said Clifford: “What’s happening now is people are not sure what to do, and they are scared and there is a lot of apprehension so people are calling about symptoms that are not emergencies.”

He said paramedics and first responders are using full personal protective equipment, and escalated levels of protection for calls related to suspected COVID-19, including gowns, boot covers, masks, face shields and hair nets that take extra time to “don-and-doff.”

Clifford said his organization is working closely with health authorities to mitigate anticipated increases in workload, exposures and risks among their teams, but the additional call volumes around suspected COVID-19, or flu-like symptoms, has increased pressure on their already stretched resources.

Clifford added: “If you are experiencing a medical emergency, or in distress, or having trouble breathing do not hesitate to call.

“I’m confident we will get through this, the public needs to know we are there and committed to looking after our patients.”