After receiving a “COVID-19” call from Bulloch County 911 late Friday afternoon, Bulloch County Emergency Medical Service responded to the seventh such call this past week.
Five of those calls turned out to be confirmed coronavirus cases; one was a false alarm, and the latest, a patient transported from a doctor’s office to East Georgia Regional Medical Center late Friday afternoon, was not yet determined to be a positive case as of Herald press time Friday.
Statesboro Herald photographer Scott Bryant was on the scene when EMTs brought the patient out of the office and into an ambulance. Both the patient and all EMTs were wearing masks, he said.
Bryant met with EMTs at the EMS station after they transported the patient and witnessed the measures taken when responding to a COVID-19 call.
“We respond with one unit (ambulance,) and once we confirm the patient has suspected coronavirus, we send a second unit for transport,” said Bulloch County EMS Director Doug Vickers.
There are two specially fitted ambulances used to transport patients with suspected COVID-19 or other contagious illnesses, he said. If first responders determine a patient is possibly infected with the virus (by asking questions and recording symptoms), they call for the second unit with one of the customized vans.
The secondary unit driver swaps ambulances with the first-responding EMTs so the patient — and exposed staff — can return to the hospital and EMS station without possibly contaminating the original ambulance. The special ambulances are covered inside with polyurethane to protect surfaces, and once a patient is delivered to the hospital, EMTs fog the vehicle inside and out to decontaminate it, he said.
The entire process “starts with 911,” Vickers said. Operators question callers, and if they feel the caller has COVID-19 symptoms, they dispatch EMS.
Questions posed by both 911 operators and responding EMTS include queries as to whether a patient has a fever, cough or “loss of taste and smell,” he said.
“That is a key indicator” a person may have the virus, Vickers said. “That symptom tips the weight.”
Every precaution is taken to protect the EMTs, patients and others, he said.
“We wear full protective gear always and follow guidelines established by the state, Department of Public Health and Centers for Disease Control.”
Even with a nationwide shortage of personal protective equipment, or PPE, Bulloch County Public Safety “does a great job” keeping EMTs and other public safety personnel safe, he said.
Even so, with all the precautions and extra measures, do EMTs worry about contracting the virus? Not really, said veteran EMT Lloyd Shurling.
Having been with Bulloch County EMS for 23 years, he has seen a lot, albeit maybe not quite as alarming as COVID-19.
“We went through SARS and the anthrax scare, when we had to use PPE,” he said. “We train for this. I’ve been ready for it from day one.”
Training is vital, and it helps that “we know what to look for,” he said.
“We wear protective equipment anyway, and the county gives us good equipment.”
So far, transporting COVID-19 patients has been fairly drama free, he said. EMTS are trained to remain calm, and patients have been very cooperative and “cool” during the ordeal, he said.
Herald reporter Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at (912) 489-9414.