Emergency responders report decline in COVID-19 calls

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JOHNSON COUNTY, Ind. — Central Indiana first responders are reporting fewer emergency medical calls related to symptoms of COVID-19.

Bargersville Deputy Fire Chief, Mike Pruitt, says EMTs and paramedics are staying busy, but they’re responding to fewer calls for possible coronavirus cases.

“We went through a period where we were responding on persons who were sick with flu-like symptoms,” Pruitt said. “And now we’ve started to see that decrease, and now we’re transitioning back to more what we were responding to before the pandemic struck.”

At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Johnson County agencies had three “isolation” ambulances that were used only for transporting potential COVID-19 patients. On Sunday, Pruitt says those ambulances were pulled out of service.

“With that reduced number, we were able to go back to normal operations with just transporting in our normal ambulances that we’ve been using for every other emergency prior to the pandemic,” Pruitt said. “It kind of shows a trend that our situation hopefully is getting under control.”

Officials with Indianapolis EMS are reporting a similar decline. Spokesperson Brian Van Bokkelen said Indianapolis EMS hit a single day high of 48 calls for flu-like symptoms on April 2. That daily number has declined since then and has been in the single digits since May 19.

Van Bokkelen says Indianapolis EMS averages 327 ambulance runs per day. During the height of the pandemic, those runs dropped to 315 per day. As more people are getting out and the weather is warming up, ambulance runs are on the rise. However, the nature of the calls are more typical of what the agency responded to before COVID-19 hit.

“We’ve started to see things start returning to the pre-COVID time,” Van Bokkelen said. “I think the takeaway is that maybe we’re starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel of all this.”

Neither Pruitt nor Van Bokkelen believe central Indiana is out of the woods yet. In fact, they say first responders have every reason to continue utilizing extra PPE and other precautions against COVID-19.  

Pruitt said six medics in his department were recently tested for COVID-19 antibodies. All the tests came back negative.

“Which was proof to us that our PPE precautions, with our masks and our gowns, was working,” Pruitt said. “It makes them feel comfortable that they can go out and do their job on the street and not have to worry.”

Out of 358 IEMS street providers, only eight have tested positive for COVID-19. All eight have returned to work.

“It really is a testament to how good of a job the IEMS EMTs and paramedics did in protecting themselves,” Van Bokkelen said. “Our leadership in getting out in front of this early and mandating PPE.”

“The PPE is doing what it’s supposed to do,” said Johnson County Health Director, Betsy Swearingen.  “It’s protecting our first responders and our essential personnel and we’re very very happy with the results.”

Swearingen believes there is reason to be optimistic about the overall situation with COVID-19.  However, she and other health officials are cautiously watching to see if the busy weekend of Memorial Day gatherings could lead to a spike in new coronavirus cases in the next couple weeks.

“Hopefully these people practiced the things that they needed to to keep them and their families safe,” Swearingen said. “But we’ll watch it and we just hope for good things to come.”

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