PLATTSBURGH — With a surge of hundreds of new COVID-19 cases starting in November, Clinton County Emergency Medical Services Coordinator Storm Treanor says local EMS services have been strained, but have been up for the task.
With more cases, each local agency is affected differently, Treanor said. While bigger agencies are now dealing with more cases, smaller ones are running the risk of losing crucial members of their limited personnel to quarantine after possible exposure to COVID-19.
Smaller agencies in particular are reliant on mutual aid, and with each call related to COVID-19 taking 30 to 60 minutes longer than usual due to health and safety protocols, such as decontamination of the ambulance and personnel, losing people at any point is costly, Treanor said.
“If you’re a small agency and you only have five responders, and two of them are quarantined, it puts a lot of burden on other people,” she said.
“Mutual aid truly becomes quite a huge role in this whole process.”
Throughout the pandemic, Treanor said she isn’t aware of any EMS personnel being infected with COVID-19 but said almost every local agency has been affected by workers being quarantined, an inevitable eventuality when dealing with patients with confirmed cases of COVID-19, especially when they are being transported by ambulances.
Handling patients who have possibly been infected by COVID-19 requires a lot of precaution and a lot of personal protective equipment. The availability of PPE for local EMS agencies has fluctuated, especially with N95 masks, which are still hard to come by at a reasonable cost, Treanor said.
Since New York state has stopped providing PPE for EMS workers last fall, Treanor said workers have had to buy their own. Although, Treanor said they try to fill in gaps wherever they can when workers run into supply issues.
She also said they have plenty of gowns, gloves and normal facemasks to provide.
Ten months into the pandemic, Treanor said EMS workers have gotten into a groove and gotten better at responding to possible cases of COVID-19.
“I think that most of the people are taking it in stride at this point,” she said.
“We’ve kind of gotten to the realm and rhythm of doing this. From the time the call comes in, they are paging out for a backup crew. If you’re an agency that has a volunteer crew or a second paid crew, you’re working to update them to know where you are.”
But getting used to handling possible cases doesn’t erase the stress that comes with the job, which has EMS workers dealing with whole stations being closed down due to possible exposures and worrying if they bring the virus back home with them, Treanor said.
Either way, the operation doesn’t change even with fewer personnel available.
“We cannot avoid taking precautions,” she said.
“We take all the ones we could possibly take.”
Regardless of the stress EMS workers face, Treanor said the public should not hesitate to call for help in an emergency.
Although she believes the uptick of cases will linger and more deaths will be reported in older patients, Treanor sees hope that the area will get back on track with the new Plattsburgh vaccination site and once more vaccines become available.