94 New Orleans EMS employees exposed to COVID-19 patients; awaiting test results

EMS Overwhelmed with shortage of paramedics

NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - “We’ve had 94 of our employees with known exposures with Covid-19 patients. Fortunately for us, about 75 percent of those employees were wearing the appropriate levels of person protective equipment while they were caring for those patients” says Emily Nichols, M.D.

According to CDC guidelines for healthcare providers, if they aren’t showing symptoms, they can continue to work as long as they wear a mask and monitor their fever.

That’s exactly what the majority of those exposed EMS workers are doing. In the meantime, the Director of New Orleans EMS, Dr. Emily Nichols says 28 employees are showing symptoms and are right now quarantined at home.

“With the Department of Health, we’ve been able to get them tested, but we don’t have many of those tests back still that’s something that’s troublesome. The turn around time that it takes for us to know if the employee tested positive or not,” says Dr. Nichols.

So far, the test results did show one EMS worker is positive for COVID-19. Right now, every EMS worker is wearing masks on every call, and they say every patient is given a mask to wear too.

“The very first positive cases that came back actually didn’t have the typical symptoms, fever, cough and shortness of breath. There was abdominal pain and an altered mental status and that’s frightening because we realize that COVID-19 is so much more prevalent in the community than we know or see,” says Dr. Nichols.

With the shortage, the state sent five surge ambulances to New Orleans EMS. Chief of New Orleans EMS Bill Salmeron says the extra help is needed.

“It’s taking longer for us to be with a patient. We have to get dressed out in gear to go see them. We have to spend more time with them and then when we get to the hospital, our units spend more time at the hospital trying to off load the patient,” says Salmeron.

Also, right now, volunteer EMT’s and paramedics will partner up with paid employees to staff ambulances.

“We have some providers that we are screening right now to really help us get the support that we need, but we are going through a very difficult situation,” says Dr. Nichols.

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