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Missoula EMS sees increase in call volume due to COVID-19

Posted at 9:25 PM, Nov 18, 2020

MISSOULA — At the first sign of an ambulance racing down the road, you know the crew inside is working under incredible pressure.

“It’s definitely taxing at times,” said EMS assistant manager Jeff Welch.

Each year, Missoula’s Emergency Medical Service responds to over 10,000 911 dispatches.

This year, the calls continue coming in, but something’s different.

“The quantity of calls has gotten much larger,” said Welch.

Welch told MTN News that back in March they’d receive two to three droplet precaution calls each day. Those are calls that indicate a potential COVID exposure. Now, they’re responding to ten times as many calls.

Welch suspects that the jump in calls is related to emerging symptoms for COVID-19.

“Let's just say somebody says they have belly pain. Belly pain is becoming a primary symptom of COVID, we're finding that just having abdominal pain alone could be a COVID sign. Now, there may be other reasons for that, but those are the people that get super panicky, and then they start having symptoms that make them believe that now they have COVID, so then they call us.”

These droplet precaution calls ensure the responders are prepared for COVID exposure, for that, they’re very helpful, but they also interfere with the workflow.

“If you run a call like that, that is presumed COVID, that takes you out of service from the rehab side, so you get to the hospital, then you have to do a deeper clean on your ambulance. We have sprayers and we have a fogging machine, we have some stuff that we spray on the ambulance and have to let it sit for some time, so the turnaround time has increased for sure.”

As someone on the frontlines, Welch has seen the pandemic up close and personal on a daily basis. His advice? Just stay home.

“It's gonna be hard to say I'm gonna have to Zoom with my family for Thanksgiving dinner, but that's just going to be a thing. I don’t think the benefit outweighs the risk. I just don't believe it does.”

Although they’re experiencing a high call volume, Welch does not want to deter people from calling emergency services if the need is there.