Introduction and background to COVID-19 and EMS response

A pandemic of mammoth proportions. This is a starting point when describing the coronavirus (COVID-19), the role of EMS, and its effects in 2020. No one would have expected the world as we know it to essentially shut down in a matter of days; but it has. So, what does this mean for Emergency Medical Services personnel? Unfortunately for EMS, it’s business as usual when it comes to reporting and going to work. But, when it comes to working, it’s a whole different animal.

Back in EMT school I remember learning all about personal protective equipment (PPE). The discussion on when to use a mask, eyewear, gowns, and gloves. Instructors emphasized that gloves and eyewear were the biggies and the others would “rarely”come into use. That is until the advent of COVID-19 and all it means for EMS.

The novel SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan evolving late last year (2019), and has since caused a large-scale pandemic that has spread to more than 175 countries and is the byproduct of a natural evolution.

America reacts

Many local governmental bodies started a stay-at-home initiative, which President Trump further promoted. In an article released by CBS News on March 18, 2020 President Trump stated, “We do not want to look like Italy does two weeks from now.” This was in reference to their surge in the number of COVID-19 cases coupled with the heightened amount of deaths that have struck them as well. Social distancing has become highly encouraged during this time, which means taking measures like holding virtual, rather than in-person, meetings.

The National Registry

In an unprecedented move, the National Registry extended the current recertification deadline from March 31, 2020 to June 30, 2020. As stated by Bill Seifarth, Executive Director of the National Registry, “Given the dynamic nature of this global pandemic, the focus of our nation’s EMS personnel should remain on personal well-being, patient safety and supporting their communities in need.” They identified that our staff, although on the front line, should remain as protected as possible.

Further, there’s a movement to eliminate the in-person requirements (F1, F2, or F5) and allow for 100% self-paced (F-3) education. This takes some stress away from the provider and opens up available online platforms. These opportunities open you, the provider, up to the most up-to-date information and science behind our practice as EMS practitioners. It also allows for interaction with providers from across the country and around the globe, an opportunity that before the advent of VILT education was only possible by attending high-priced national conferences.

COVID-19 and EMS response

Prior to the coronavirus, the United States had 21,283 EMS agencies responding to over 30 million calls. The stress that EMS will experience in the coming weeks will be trying, to say the least.

Not only are the experts expecting call volumes to eventually rise to above normal limits, but a large number of EMS personnel could start falling ill from the virus.

The agencies that I work for have all begun working on contingency plans and “shared-staffing” policies and procedures to implement in case of personnel shortages. This way, agencies can combat the virus and ensure the timely and proper staffing of units to respond to emergencies. With confirmed COVID-19 cases among EMS responders growing, this will become all the more important.

Some recommendations found in an article written by Brian Maguire DrPH state that we should expand the EMS workforce, deliver national online training, and purchase personal protective equipment (PPE) in bulk. Expanding the workforce will not allow for personnel to be properly trained to become an EMT or Paramedic in a short period of time but could enable, with the assistance of emergent local and state regulations, non-clinical staff to be set up to drive and/or disinfect the equipment and units. A national online training program could be implemented to provide basic training to this new workforce, as well as supplement the training and knowledge of current EMS personnel.

To do our part in the fight against COVID-19, Distance CME is offering free educational resources on infectious disease, EMS hygiene, and more. These courses include self-paced programs and virtual instructor-led programs that can count as two hours of CAPCE accredited F-5 content.


Although this is a pandemic, and its end point at this time is unknown, it cannot go unmentioned that this is not the first time in history that we have combated such an event. In recent terms there is the HIV/AIDS pandemic (at its peak from 2005-2012) with a death toll currently of 36 million. Then there is the flu pandemics of 1968 and 1918. Though many of us are not old enough to remember the flu pandemics, we can learn lessons from them. One important piece to remember is that pandemics do come to an end. It may not seem like there’s an end in sight for the COVID-19 pandemic, but it will end one day.

Will the world be the same after it? Probably not. But what will be different is our knowledge and ability to learn from the lessons it taught us. We can be better and more effectively prepared when the next crisis arises, whenever that may be.

As humans we are not perfect and we constantly grow. We must embrace that now and remember to keep our social distancing during this very difficult time in history.