The Sentinel, Carlisle, Pa.
The past few weeks have seen a dramatic increase in hospital transports due to the surge from the delta variant of COVID-19, according to Nathan Harig, assistant chief of administration for Cumberland Goodwill EMS.
The number of transports jumped from one to two cases per week in mid-July to nine to 12 cases per week in late August, Harig said Tuesday. “We don’t have full data from last week.”
Aside from typical symptoms of fever and difficulty breathing, the delta variant is causing abdominal problems in the form of nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, Harig said. The patients also tend to be younger — in their 50s and 60s compared to 70s and 80s during the earlier waves of the pandemic, he said.
This uptick in call volume has resulted in longer turnaround times for ambulance crews to complete a transport at a hospital, Harig said. What was once about 24 minutes is now almost 30 minutes.
The surge in cases has compounded the pressure on emergency room staff leading to hospitals issuing more divert requests to ambulances transporting noncritical patients.
Cumberland Goodwill EMS has seen a slight increase in the number of patients it has to transport farther away to facilities like UPMC West Shore and Holy Spirit Hospital, Harig said. The only exceptions to divert requests are patients experiencing a stroke, heart attack or traumatic life-threatening injury.
As cases have surged, ambulance crews are back to wearing masks and other protective gear leading to renewed COVID fatigue and a form of déjà vu, Harig said. But unlike the initial outbreak, there is greater confidence from having more information on the virus and the necessary mitigation protocols.
“There is an understanding among the staff that it’s not as scary,” Harig said. “We have dealt with this before.”
As of Tuesday, Cumberland Goodwill EMS had about 45 staff members — of which, 97% are fully vaccinated. In recent weeks, there have been about four breakthrough infections among vaccinated staff members who have experienced such mild symptoms as a stuffy nose, Harig said.
While none of the cases have been serious, any positive test or chance of exposure could require a staff member to be placed on quarantine, creating a temporary worker shortage.
Email Joseph Cress at email@example.com.
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