Austin-Travis County EMS Association calls for more resources during COVID-19 pandemic

Coronavirus

AUSTIN (KXAN) — To date, five medics in Austin-Travis County EMS Association have tested positive for COVID-19.

Amid the recent spike in cases across Texas, the association expects that number to grow in the coming weeks.

First responders around Travis County are stretched to their limits as they work on the frontlines to keep the public safe.

“The spike is here and we are definitely feeling it,” said Jon Kalinowski, clinical specialist for Austin-Travis County EMS.

Every day during the pandemic is a unique challenge for Kalinowski and his fellow medics as they are faced with more and more calls related to COVID-19.

“We run about 300-something calls a day. We were past 500 before I went home both days [during the past two shifts]. On Monday, we were in the station for 37 minutes,” Kalinowski said.

The increase in calls usually means zero downtime for medics.

They also have a more time-consuming routine as they have to decontaminate their gear and their ambulances after each call.

“They have to take what we call ‘death wipes’, which are highly antibacterial wipes and they have to wipe every surface down in the back of the ambulance. And both providers have to shower and change their uniforms,” said Selena Xie, President of the Austin EMS Association.

Kalinowski said they are going through a lot more uniforms and personal protective equipment (PPE). He also added that it’s taking crews a lot longer to clear from one individual call before they are ready to respond to the next.

These changes are prompting calls from the association to city and state leaders for more resources to keep families safe during the pandemic.

“We are asking for more ambulances to cover the change in length of calls and we are asking for our busiest demand trucks to be switched in 24-hour trucks,” Xie said. 

The association says the department re-allocated current positions to the Covid-19 Clinical Consult Line (CCCL), which is staffed by Austin-Travis County EMS medics who can provide an additional layer of guidance for their colleagues in the field dealing with a COVID-19 case.

The association wants those positions funded in next years budget.

“If we fully fund this line, once we have a vaccine, once COVID is not as big of an issue, we can reduce the cost to the city of taking people to the ER when they don’t need to go there,” Xie said.

KXAN reached out to the City of Austin to find out the status of the association’s request to provide more ambulances for EMS workers. A spokesperson says they’re working on the request.

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