Callers to 911 will be screened for coronavirus symptoms

Published 12:01 am Wednesday, March 18, 2020

By Shavonne Potts

SALISBURY — The Rowan County 911 Communications Center has enacted new protocols to protect emergency responders amid a rapidly changing world because of the spread of the coronavirus disease COVID-19,

Rowan 911 Director Allen Cress said 911 dispatchers are following the International Academies of Emergency Dispatch Protocols, which recommends enhanced screening of callers, particularly those who are sick or have difficulty breathing. In addition, Rowan County Emergency Services are following a set of specific guidelines if there should be a case of someone presenting symptoms of coronavirus, said Rowan Emergency Services Division Chief T.J. Brown.

The protocols that are being followed include a series of questions to ascertain a person’s level of sickness.
Callers to 911 who are sick or have difficulty breathing are then asked a series of questions that include whether they have traveled in the last 21 days and if that travel included a known infected “hot area” or contact with someone who had flu or flu-like symptoms, Cress said.
Further, the caller will be asked if he or she has the following: difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, nasal congestion, persistent cough, sore throat and runny or stuffy nose.

“If we have somebody presenting with all of that, we still send EMS out but we notify them that they have symptoms,” Cress said.

Since developments surrounding coronavirus are fluid, these protocols could change, Cress said. As of earlier this week, Cress said, no one who has called 911 has answered “yes” to those questions.

If patients are presenting relevant symptoms, Brown said, EMS personnel would take precautions that include wearing oxygen or surgical masks.

One of the first calls in a “yes” case would be to the on-duty emergency management officer, who would contact the Rowan County Health Department to determine if transporting the patient is the appropriate course of action. The course of action would be on a case-by-case basis. It could also depend on whether the person at home is not feeling well but not in immediate distress.

If emergency personnel believe a person has the symptoms associated with coronavirus, the person could still be taken to the hospital for medical treatment. But patients whose symptoms are consistent with the coronavirus would receive a test to confirm its existence.

Since the first week in February, when conversations about the virus and its associated disease, COVID-19, Rowan Emergency Management and the Rowan Health Department meetings have become more frequent.

“We are working hand-in-hand to address different issues. All the questions people are asking, we are doing our best to filter through that information so that everybody has the latest information,” Brown said.

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