First responders across the United States have experienced severe impacts due to sub-par vaccination rates and the spread of the Delta variant, putting them under an incredible amount of stress.
Maxim Gorin explains how the pandemic has affected first responders like firefighters, police, hospitals, and EMS services.
Delaying Care for Other Conditions
During the early months of the coronavirus pandemic, many patients delayed receiving care for deadly health conditions like heart disease, cancer, and diabetes, which led to severe consequences. EMTs and paramedics were severely challenged by the influx of patients with advanced illnesses, and many were overwhelmed by the necessity of providing urgent end-of-life care.
Lack of Personal Protective Equipment
In the early months of the pandemic, it wasn’t easy to obtain personal protective equipment (PPE) like masks, gowns, and face shields. Therefore, many first responders were forced to do without these simple preventive measures and contracted COVID.
Extreme Overcrowding in Emergency Rooms
When first responders reach the hospital with their patients, there is always a chance there will be no bed available in the emergency room or ICU. Beds in these facilities are taken up by COVID patients, making it nearly impossible to accommodate others with serious diseases. EMS providers are often forced to drive long distances to find a hospital with room for their patients. This uses ambulances’ valuable time and takes personnel away from the local community they serve, which further compounds the issue.
Serious Personal Risk of Contracting COVID
Emergency personnel like ambulance workers, firefighters, and police officers are at extreme risk of contracting COVID themselves. They frequently come into contact with infectious, unmasked, or unvaccinated people. The risk of contracting Covid was especially acute in the months before the vaccine became available. However, breakthrough cases where patients are fully vaccinated have become more common since the advent of the Delta variant.
Many first responders have contracted COVID during their shifts, causing staffing problems for many agencies as employees quarantine or due to illness. This puts the safety of communities at increased risk from other dangers.
Mental Health Effects
COVID-19 has also had an indelible impact on first responders’ mental health. According to the CDC, first responders are vulnerable to mental health problems caused by being part of or witnessing traumatic events. While first responders are often experienced with handling these issues, COVID has become the tipping point for many.
First responders who have experienced numerous COVID patients’ distress and deaths are prone to depression, anxiousness, or other stress-related illnesses. In extremes cases, first responders could become suicidal. Local police, fire, and ambulance services should pay close attention to their staff and address issues as they arise. Mental health should be approached with the same concern as physical health by providing proper counseling and care.
Coupling the increased stress at work with the personal risk of catching the disease has caused many first responders to burn out. Many first responders are leaving the profession in favor of less hazardous and stressful occupations.
At the same time, fewer people are applying for first responder jobs. This could be due to the pandemic as well as relatively low pay compared to other professions. Working as a first responder is a calling for many. However, after the dire effects of COVID during the past 18 months and lack of adequate compensation, potential recruits have decided not to pursue careers in this field.
Solutions for First Responders
First, agencies should require that all of their first responders be vaccinated for COVID-19. While breakthrough cases do happen, these cases are far less likely to result in severe illness or death than they would among the unvaccinated.
Next, the proper wearing of personal protective equipment needs to be ensured. Masks and other PPE can significantly reduce the chance of contracting COVID through exposure to infectious people. The general public should also wear masks unless they are having trouble breathing or receiving oxygen treatments.
The Impact of COVID on First Responders
As Max Gorin has shown, COVID has had severe effects on first responders across the United States. These heroes’ brave and selfless actions have helped save many lives, but staffing shortages and burnout stand in the way of a thoroughly effective response.
Maxim Gorin believes that the pandemic can be conquered if vaccination rates and use of PPE increase. We should all focus on preventative measures to decrease chances of COVID exposure so first responders can focus on other ways of protecting our communities.