MECKLENBURG COUNTY, N.C. — As COVID-19 cases rise in Mecklenburg County, first responders are feeling the strain. As more virus spreads and hospital beds fill, paramedics are in danger of being exposed to the virus.
Mecklenburg County EMS is requiring its staff to be vaccinated, it’s a way to be protected as the risk on the job goes up again. The number of COVID-19 positive patients that they've transported has gone up 300% in recent weeks.
First responders have no choice but to go when they're called, despite the potential to be exposed to COVID-19.
“The 911 system is busier now than it has really ever been. COVID is a part of that,” Jon Studnek, the Deputy Director for Medic said.
Back in June, Medic was transporting an average of one COVID-19 positive patient a day. On Saturday, they had 20.
“We are noticing that the hospital capacity is beginning to get tight,” Studnek said. It's been tight enough that at times, the hospitals have gone on diversion.
Diversion is when Medic will transfer patients to a different emergency department because some are full. There are several in the area, so if Novant and Atrium Health are both full, there are options.
It's similar to what first responders experienced last fall, except now most of them are vaccinated.
“We support the decisions our healthcare system has made in protecting our patients and we want to be very clear that we're pro-vaccination, we want our folks to get vaccinated unless they have a medical or religious exemption,” Studnek said.
He said 78% of Medic employees who work in the field have gotten the shots. It’s a vaccination rate they hope to see reflected in the community.
“This next wave is going to be serious and it’s going to stress our system, our Medic providers and our hospital system,” Studnek said. “And the way to reduce that stress is to go get vaccinated, so please do that."
Some of the stress is already taking its toll.
“They’ve seen folks who have been relatively healthy become very, very ill very, very quickly," he said. "The sheer volume of sick people that we have seen takes a toll both physically and it takes a toll mentally."
Studnek said if someone is experiencing a minor illness or injury to call your primary care provider before 911.