April 14, 2020
New York's Emergency Medical Service workers are working overtime to keep up with increased demand during the coronavirus pandemic, and more than 20 percent of them have tested positive for COVID-19.
Vinny Variale, a Lieutenant for the Fire Department of New York City and president of the Uniformed EMS Officers Union, is among those who came down with the disease. Variale told Cheddar Tuesday he got the virus when the crisis first began in the U.S.
"It was a difficult five days, but it got much better after that," he said. "I experienced high fever, coughing fits, shortness of breath. It was something I do not want to experience again."
The lieutenant has fully recovered from the virus and has even returned to work to assist on the frontlines. New York still leads with the most number of COVID-19 cases, and Variale said they are experiencing unprecedented call volumes.
"A normal day in EMS would be 4,000 calls a day. We've hit call volumes as high as 7,400 calls a day. Thankfully the call volume has dropped recently to about 5,800 - 5,500, but it is still very high," Variale said. "We have a very young workforce with 68 percent less than three years experience, 75 percent with less than five years, who are seeing a lot of horrific moments and a lot of death out there."
Along with the surge in emergencies, medical gear shortages have been a concern for many the EMS and healthcare workers working on the frontlines. Variale said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendation, being followed by the FDNY, is to not wear N-95 masks in all cases due to the equipment shortfall.
"Because of the shortages they have rationed the N-95 masks, telling us to no longer wear them on every call but to wear them with only high-risk procedures like cardiac arrests or with respiratory elements and treatments," he stated. "So it's a problem for us."
Despite the recommendation, the lieutenant emphasized how important it is for emergency workers to wear a mask on every call because they are constantly exposing themselves to the virus and could potentially be infecting others.
"When we are exposed and become COVID-19 positive we not only take it home to our families but if we don't know about it because we may be asymptomatic, we are exposing patients to that, and patients with underlying conditions can suffer greatly from that," Variale said.