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Health workers give people free Covid-19 tests in Arlington, Virginia, on May 26. Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images.

Health workers give people free Covid-19 tests in Arlington, Virginia, on May 26. Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images.

When the COVID-19 pandemic instigated the first of several lockdowns, people cheered for doctors through open windows every night at sunset. Now the latest news of virus hotspots and hospital systems becoming overwhelmed feels normal. It’s taken a toll on the entire medical community, but especially medical workers and emergency medical technicians (EMTs).

People should know how COVID-19 is affecting EMTs so lasting solutions can solve their most pressing problems.

They’re Working Overtime

Cities and rural areas deal with differing levels of COVID-19 spread depending on their population size and mitigation measures. Whenever cases begin to rise, EMTs have to work overtime. People call for ambulances to take them to the nearest hospital when they can’t take a deep breath or when their family member needs immediate medical attention. There are so many calls that some patients wait hours in ambulance bays while hospitals try to find room for them.

EMT workers are in the middle of each patient and their doctor. They work overtime to ensure that everyone gets the help they need, but the overtime is more crushing than before the pandemic began. The first COVID-19 response bill left ambulance workers excluded from hazard pay, leaving many unpaid for their many extra hours of work and exposure to the airborne virus.

They’re Much More Understaffed

Medical staff members have been on the frontlines of the pandemic long after the first wave began to end in New York in the spring of 2020. They’re still handling waves of patients who don’t always make it back through the front doors. A recent poll shows that 3 in 10 health care workers are quitting due to pandemic trauma created by repeatedly losing patients, working extensive hours, and fearing for their personal safety.

Medical staff members have been on the frontlines of the pandemic long after the first wave began to end in New York in the spring of 2020.

Anyone who wonders how COVID-19 is affecting EMTs should look to staff rosters. Each worker must work longer shifts because there’s no one to take their place. Although the situation has inspired many to become EMTs, there’s still a significant shortage of workers to handle the ongoing waves in major cities and rural areas. Some states, like Texas, only require 15 weeks of training to become a certified EMT, but others take much longer, meaning hospital systems can’t always fill their vacant job positions.

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They’re Handling New Protocols

Protocols are part of the strain of COVID-19 on EMS workers because they have to continue handling workplace standards that make their jobs more difficult. Exchanging personal protective equipment (PPE) between patients and maintaining social distancing makes it more challenging to respond to emergencies than in the past.

The minutes spent swapping gowns or masks or debating social distancing with people on the scene of medical emergencies take time away from caring for patients and doing their jobs.

They’re Juggling Constant Updates

COVID-19 is still a new virus, so the science regarding its nature and how to handle it may update frequently. Staying up-to-date requires a consistently reliable flow of information between hospital administration, medical supervisors, and team members. Communicating isn’t always easy, especially for EMT workers out in the field.

EMT volunteers and employees have to remember the latest updates that affect themselves and their patients to provide the best care. When new variants emerge, they have to check for the latest updates regarding testing and vaccination to be safe to go to work. EMT members also need to know what scientific breakthroughs have occurred to best treat the people suffering from COVID-19 who need their expertise.

They’re Battling Patient Misinformation

Misinformation is rampant and likely won’t go away anytime soon. Anyone who wants to know how COVID-19 has affected emergency medical workers can look to patient interactions to see misinformation hurts people. Some patients with COVID-19 symptoms fear being treated with less respect by medical workers because they’re unvaccinated, so they may treat EMT workers with hostility from the start.

Patients also argue for non-FDA-approved medications to treat their COVID-19 symptoms because they don’t trust the proven and effective treatments available at the hospital. Some people even believe the misinformation so much that they deny that they’re dying when EMT workers can’t do anything for them.

Misinformation increases the strain of COVID-19 on EMS workers because it’s not their job to fight viral social media posts and debate with their patients. It makes their responsibility to treat and care for patients much more difficult when the same patients don’t trust their medical training or knowledge.

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EMS Workers and Ongoing COVID Battles

People who want to know how COVID-19 has affected emergency medical workers should focus on these pressing issues. EMT and EMS workers can’t continue doing their jobs with immense pressure to work longer hours, little pay, and extreme exposure. They need assistance in the form of extra volunteers and public support in the form of reducing the spread of both misinformation and COVID-19.

Ginger Abbott