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EMS prepares for Coronavirus in Bayonne

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Emergency Medical Services using an electrostatic fog machine to decontaminate ambulances
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Emergency Medical Services using an electrostatic fog machine to decontaminate ambulances
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Bayonne is bracing for the novel coronavirus, known as COVID-19. While the risk remains low to residents, Emergency Medical Services (EMS) is taking no chances when it comes to the safety and well-being of citizens.

Mike McCabe is Chief of Operations at McCabe Ambulance Services, which provides Emergency Medical Services to Bayonne.

McCabe Ambulance makes up the EMS element of the COVID-19 Task Force in Bayonne. Established by Mayor James Davis, the task force is composed of key stakeholders from throughout the city, including vital agencies such as the Bayonne Police Department, Bayonne Fire Department, the Bayonne Office of Emergency Management, and the Bayonne Department of Health.

The task force monitors COVID-19 on a daily basis to see how the virus is evolving and spreading. The situation is very fluid at the moment. EMS is currently gathering information and preparing accordingly.

McCabe said that the virus primarily affects people who have a compromised immune system and or have underlying health or respiratory issues. COVID-19 is much less severe in cases involving healthy, adult individuals but that could change as the situation evolves.

“We are treating it right now like any infectious disease that’s a virus, like the flu,” McCabe said. “But we have to be cognizant of how the virus manifests itself moving forward in different patients.”

COVID-19 seems to affect healthy people in a way similar to the flu, with patients usually making a full recovery. However, McCabe noted that there are some outliers throughout the world that the task force is monitoring to see how that factor could play into potential cases in Bayonne.

“We want to see how that manifests itself in this country as the virus becomes more prevalent,” McCabe said. “What we are trying to do is maintain a calm, cool, and collected approach to this without everyone getting too fearful. I think the virus is certainly something of concern, but it should not be something that creates panic.”

In addition to monitoring the state of COVID-19, EMS in Bayonne is stepping up call screening for 9-1-1 dispatchers.

Call screenings for COVID-19

According to McCabe, EMS is currently screening medical calls with extra questions aimed to helped identify potential COVID-19 patients.

Within the emergency dispatch software, screening cards are available for operators to help medical callers screen for infectious disease, previously used during outbreaks of Ebola and SARS.

“When we take a 9-1-1 call, if it’s a general illness case or respiratory-driven illness case, our antenna goes up,” McCabe said. “That’s when we would pull up the card for Coronavirus which prompts more questions such as the caller’s recent travel destinations.”

After the call screening, EMS begins the appropriate information dissemination to all relevant parties.

For instance, if the emergency dispatch received a call for a patient suspected of COVID-19, EMS first responders are made aware of the situation as well as the Bayonne Police Department, the Fire Department, and the hospital receiving the patient.

“We have to make the hospital aware that there’s potentially somebody that’s infected with Coronavirus, so they can take necessary steps to isolate the individual,” McCabe said.

Surgical masks versus EMS masks

EMS in Bayonne is also using full Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

PPE gear for first responders includes goggles, protective gloves, and if-needed a protective gown that shields the outer layer of clothing.

EMS has N95 masks with a filtration system for particulates. The masks are more advanced than normal surgical masks that the general public has been wearing.

McCabe told the Bayonne Community News that surgical masks do not protect people from COVID-19.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the best defense against COVID-19 is thoroughly washing your hands with soap and water, not surgical masks.

McCabe aid that standard surgical masks don’t have a proper filtration system to filter particulates from the virus.

Surgical masks aren’t good for first responders because they can still breathe in germs and become infected while transporting the patient. The best use of the mask would be for those potentially infected with COVID-19 to prevent spreading the virus further.

“If we approach someone potentially infected with the disease, we will have our N95 personal protective mask on, and we will place a surgical mask on the victim for reverse isolation practices,” McCabe said.

Decontamination practices 

If EMS hypothetically transported a patient suspected of COVID-19 to the hospital, McCabe said there are decontamination protocols in place to make sure the ambulance does not harbor germs from the patient after transport.

“If we were to come into contact with someone who is potentially infected, the CDC only recommends airing out the ambulance or anything that may have come in contact with the patient for 20 minutes in open air,” McCabe said. “That doesn’t make me overly comfortable or confident.”

To ensure cleanliness, an electrostatic fogging machine is used to decontaminate the ambulances. It was purchased prior to the outbreak of COVID-19.

“An antiviral antibacterial solution fills the electrostatic sprayer that fogs every part of the inside of the ambulance. Then we air it out for 20 minutes,” McCabe said. “The fog destroys any and all viruses that may be in the ambulance, reaching every corner of the vehicle.”

McCabe said the ambulances are routinely fogged but will receive immediate attention if they transport a suspected COVID-19 patient.

“It gives peace of mind that we’re not just allowing people to come in and out and having these types of microbials linger in the ambulance to potentially expose other people,” McCabe said.

Setting the record straight

Misleading pictures previously caused a COVID-19 frenzy on social media after a cruise ship carrying suspected patients docked in Bayonne.

McCabe cleared up previous misconceptions about Bayonne EMS’s handling of the suspected COVID-19 patients from the Royal Caribbean cruise ship that docked in the city.

When the Anthem of the Seas docked in Bayonne on Feb. 1, several passengers were suspected of being possible COVID-19 patients.

McCabe recalled that there were eight to ten individuals from mainland China, not from the Hubei province, who boarded the ship prior to the travel bans that were enacted.  Out of extreme caution, McCabe said, the CDC wanted to screen those individuals for COVID-19.

“We were very much a part of conference calls in days leading up to landing in port and formed strategic plans to remove them using proper PPE,” McCabe said. “The patients were removed from the ship and brought into the cruise terminal for temporary screening before heading to [Newark] University Hospital for further screening.”

Despite the proper procedure, a picture circulated online that outraged some Bayonne residents. The image captured EMS transporting patients with other illnesses that were cleared of COVID-19 while wearing only gloves, according to McCabe.

When the Royal Caribbean Anthem of the Seas comes into port every week, EMS transports patients to the hospital who have gotten sick or injured while at sea.

“The cameras captured us going on to the ship with just our regular PPE, which is just gloves, to receive the normal patients,” McCabe said. “It looked as if we were not appropriately protecting ourselves and others by not wearing the appropriate PPE.”

In reality, potentially infected COVID-19 patients were transported off the ship into the cruise terminal by EMS workers in full PPE before heading to the hospital.

“We would never put our people in a situation to expose them or anyone else,” McCabe said. “Everything we’re doing is well-practiced and part of a planned operation between multiple entities and city agencies.”

Bayonne currently has no suspected cases of COVID-19. New Jersey confirmed its first cases of the virus in Bergen County on March 4 and March 5. As of March 9, there were six presumptive positive cases of COVID-19 in the state.

There are currently 27 Persons Under Investigation for COVID-19 in New Jersey, pending testing in the state Public Health Environmental Labs, according to a March 8 statement by Gov. Murphy.

For updates on this and other stories, check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Dan Israel can be reached at disrael@hudsonreporter.com.

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