US paramedics responding to pandemic: I can’t wait for this to be over

By CJ Gunther

Chelsea, USA, Apr 23 (EPA-EFE). In a working class neighborhood across the Mystic River from Boston, paramedics with the Cataldo Ambulance service are stretched thin with the rising number of coronavirus cases spiraling out of control.

For the city’s EMTs, crews must endure long hours and back-to-back shifts with little to no rest.

Back at base, the staff room is kept disinfected, but for most of the day it is empty as the EMTs respond to a near constant stream of calls.

“I can’t wait for the days of that routine call for a man down on the sidewalk, and all of this is over,” paramedic Rich Yunker says.

Massachusetts is one of the hardest hit states in the country, after neighboring New York, with densely-populated Chelsea suffering one of the highest rates of infection in the state.

The city of around 40,000 people has reported at least 1,054 COVID-19 cases confirmed as of Wednesday, with 84 deaths. Over 240 people have recovered.

“Unfortunately, we know the virus is widespread, and for at least the foreseeable future, these numbers will continue to grow daily,” health authorities with the city of Chelsea said in a statement Wednesday.

“Our best weapon against the spread of this virus, and the terrible toll it is taking, is compliance with physical distancing rules.”

But in a community characterized by low-income immigrant families staying in homes with small yards in close proximity to one another, this is no easy feat. Due to a lack of affordable housing, many people also have to share accommodation.

These close-quarter living conditions have made the area a hotbed of coronavirus infections with the outbreak spreading rapidly through the area.

To reduce the risk the responders are exposed to, they ask any patients to meet them outside.

“We don’t want to go into some of the places. It is so small and there is no room to move. It’s no wonder it spreads so quickly,” says EMT Katie Shikora.

As well as witnessing first-hand the overcrowded conditions that hamper efforts to contain the outbreak, each call the medics respond is a reminder of the dwindling supplies of PPE (personal protective equipment).

Supervisors’ trucks have been deployed as mobile supply vans, meeting up with crews in the field in parking lots to resupply them with disposable gowns and masks.

The privately-owned Cataldo ambulance service is assisted by the local fire department, which helps in disposing of the hazardous used medical supplies.

After each visit, the ambulances, gurneys and other medical equipment must be disinfected, before the next call inevitably comes in.

Despite all of the challenges, the medics are upbeat, and appreciate the public showings of thanks that have become one of the most visible and inspiring signs of solidarity amid the gloom.

“I appreciate being appreciated,” EMT Kristen Savella, says. “The free coffee is nice too, but it is our job, and I like what I do.” EPA-EFE


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