NEW ORLEANS —
More than half of the employees working for New Orleans EMS have been exposed to COVID-19, the potentially deadly disease caused by the coronavirus. But most of those employees will continue to work because they are not showing symptoms, the agency said.
At least 94 of NOEMS's 170 employees have been in contact with the disease since Louisiana's outbreak began and meet the criteria for quarantine, according to a statement released Tuesday.
But because the CDC has different guidelines for first responders during the crisis – issued because of the overwhelming need for medical professionals to deal with the growing number of cases – only symptomatic employees have been sent home, NOEMS officials said.
The rest are allowed to continue working as long as they wear masks and are monitored for fever and other symptoms.
Only 28 employees are symptomatic, according to the statement. Those employees are quarantined in their homes. No New Orleans EMS employee has tested positive for COVID-19 as of Tuesday night, officials said, but some results are pending.
Wednesday, the state will be sending "surge ambulances" to areas with heavy coronavirus spread, including Orleans Parish. More ambulances will be assigned to New Orleans EMS's fleet daily, the agency said.
To man the ambulances, New Orleans EMS has temporarily amended their policy, allowing basic life support transports (which are staffed by EMTs instead of paramedics) to respond to calls.
"Because of the extreme increase of calls to 9-1-1, New Orleans EMS has temporarily amended policy to allow for basic life support transports," said New Orleans EMS Chief Bill Salmeron. "This will allow us to easily staff ambulances as we are experiencing a shortage in paramedics due to health reasons."
NOEMS is also working with the city of New Orleans to approve volunteer EMTs and paramedics who would partner up with a paid employee to staff an ambulance.
"This also will help us staff ambulances as we experience a shortage of personnel," Salmeron said. "All volunteers have been selected based on their previous experience with NOEMS."
All volunteers will operate at an EMT level, regardless of whether they have been further trained as a paramedic.