In the months that New York City has been locked down in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, residents have compared their feelings to the shock and sadness experienced after the World Trade Center was attacked on September 11, 2001. There are many parallels, including closing of businesses, postponement of sporting events and emergence of a spirit of volunteerism throughout the five boroughs. For emergency medical technicians (EMTs) and other first responders, the similarity was reflected in the highest 911 call volume since the tragic events of nearly 20 years ago.
Starting in mid-March, the impact of the coronavirus has slammed the city’s emergency medical response system in numerous ways, including:
- Emergency calls up 40 percent — At the end of March, Owen Barzilay, president of the union that represents NYC EMTs and paramedics, reported that the average daily 911 call volume had spiked to around 6,500. This is a 40 percent increase over the normal rate and significantly above the usual high point of approximately 5,000. This surge in activity led to delays of several hours in response times in some instances.
- Shortage of healthy first responders — While the need for Emergency Medical Service workers skyrocketed, many EMTs were suffering from the effects of COVID-19 themselves. Debilitating symptoms, fear of disease transmission and lack of access to testing led absences of more than 200 EMS employees, according to Barzilay.
- Risk of exposure and other injuries — On every call, EMTs make contact with someone who requires treatment. The massive workload caused by the coronavirus heightens the risk of exposure exponentially. Shortages of personal protective equipment also pose a hazard. Moreover, overstressed employees and short staffs increase the likelihood of other types of injuries that EMTs are prone to suffer in the course of their duties.
Though COVID-19 presents a unique, unprecedented challenge, EMTs, along with the firefighters and police officers who respond to 911 calls, face various injury and exposure risks every day. Even as the intensity of the pandemic’s effects have eased for now, it is vital that city officials and department leaders take significant steps to protect first responders from this new threat as well as other hazards.
Barasch & McGarry represents EMS workers, firefighters and police officers in various claims arising from job-related injuries and illnesses. To schedule a free consultation regarding a potential case, please call [ln::phone] or contact us online.