'We all want to get home to our families': Guelph's paramedics on front line of coronavirus fight

News Apr 05, 2020 by Graeme McNaughton Guelph Mercury

The new era of the COVID-19 coronavirus has resulted in changes in the lives of many across Guelph.

It likely means much more time at home — it could be because your work is now remote, you were laid off, or you've taken on the role of teacher.

For the city’s paramedics, who are on the front lines of the fight against the pandemic, it's a totally different story.

Recently, the Mercury Tribune talked with four paramedics from the Guelph-Wellington Paramedic Service via video conference to see what their time on the front lines of the coronavirus fight has been like.

Business as usual, in unusual times

Paramedics are there to help people when they are their most vulnerable. Critical to the role is being able to ease people's fear and anxiety. But with the coronavirus, there's another layer both patients and paramedics have to deal with.

“There’s a level of anxiety, I think, with everybody, including the public as well as the health care providers,” says advanced care paramedic Malcolm Fan.

“We all want to get home to our families, and we’re all trying to really take the precautions that we can to care for our patients.”

Those extra precautions have included the donning of masks, goggles and gloves on every call.

“It is kind of strange because you’re certainly not used to that, and it makes it difficult,” says Connor Downes, another advanced care paramedic with GWPS.

“We’re still transporting the same patients that we’ve always transported with other illnesses and injuries,” adds advanced care paramedic Kirk MacGregor.

He says, along with the extra gear paramedics need to wear to every call, they've also been “doing extra to try to keep the equipment and the vehicle clean.

“So there’s just an extra level of protection for all the patients that we pick up — not just the patients that we think we infected or could be infected with COVID, because we’re still picking up all the same patients that we used to, and we don’t want them to be exposed to anything.”

 

 

Briana Cunningham, a primary care paramedic with GWPS, says she's seen an increased anxiety from patients needing treatment for non-coronavirus related reasons. This is especially the case since an outbreak was declared in one wing of Guelph General Hospital — an outbreak which, to date, has seen 24 hospital staff test positive.

“They’re concerned about if they can go to the hospital — are they going to be exposed there? — and people are definitely scared,” she says.

Elderly patients are particularly anxious about going to hospital, adds MacGregor.

“They know they’re at a higher risk of becoming ill from this. It’s hard when you’re called and you have to convince the person that they should go to the hospital because they’re scared that they might get sick when they end up there for something unrelated.”

“There is a pandemic going on, but people also have medical emergencies that are unrelated,” Cunningham adds. “And if we leave them at home, it doesn’t really matter if they catch COVID or not, because they might not survive the actual emergency that they’re having.”

Downes adds he has seen the same sentiment from those showing symptoms of the virus.

“They’ve got moderate symptoms, experiencing shortness of breath, and they’re asking us, ‘Is it safe there?’” How can I provide assurance to people?” he says.

“Really, the only place you’re safe is at home, when you’re not interacting with anybody. There’s inherent risk anywhere if you go beyond the social distancing measures, right?”

 

 

‘The number is significantly higher’

While local paramedics continue to see patients for all kinds of emergencies, they're also responding to people with symptoms of COVID-19.

“We’re picking up patients every day that have suspected COVID, or symptoms similar to it,” MacGregor says.

Some of those patients have misconception about what paramedics can and cannot do when it comes to helping tackle this crisis — and the moves made by some could potentially put people’s lives at risk, he adds.

“Some of them have already tested positive for it, but we don’t test as a paramedic service, and the hospital’s not going to test patients who come in and just request to be tested,” he says, adding the best thing to do if you suspect you may have the virus is to stay home, call Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health, and follow their directions.

“We have patients who are calling us to have us transport them to hospital, potentially exposing people to this disease when their symptoms are mild, and they could recover at home.”

 

 

With the paramedics reporting seeing patients with coronavirus on a regular basis, the question becomes how prevalent is COVID-19 in Guelph?

“The numbers that are coming out from Public Health are not reflective of how many (cases) are actually in the community,” Fan says.

“The number is significantly higher.”

At the time of this interview, Public Health reported there were 33 confirmed diagnoses of the coronavirus in Guelph. However, not everyone reporting symptoms is being tested, with many showing mild symptoms being asked to quarantine at home for two weeks.

Asked if the real number of cases could be 10 times that, Downes responded, “I agree 100 per cent.”

What’s real, what’s not

With the pandemic being the world’s biggest issue in decades, people are looking for information on what they need to do — unfortunately, with the prevalence of online sources, many of questionable value, the information out there isn’t always right.

Cunningham points to so-called remedies for the coronavirus she has seen online, like drinking hot tea to “flush the disease out,” or do-at-home coronavirus tests, like seeing how long you can hold your breath.

“Those are the ones that are more concerning to me.”

Fan and Downes both say they've seen commentary online that the coronavirus is no worse than a typical flu.

“I’ve heard a lot of people saying, ‘I’ve got a really strong immune system, so I’m not worried,’” Fan says, irritated.

“This is a brand new disease, and we haven’t built up the antibodies to fight this virus. Everyone’s susceptible, even the young.”

“The flu is not transmitted nearly as easy as this, and you can be vaccinated for the flu,” Downes adds.

“There is no vaccine for this.”

 

 

Another misconception is the idea paramedics won’t respond to patients who report symptoms from COVID-19 — it's a notion that has led some people to lie when they call 911.

“All of our patients are going to still receive the same care that we’re trained to provide,” Fan says.

MacGregor adds that 911 dispatchers are screening callers so paramedics can show up prepared.

“Be honest with them and tell them if you have symptoms because that’s not going to change the care you’re getting,” he says.

“It might just change the level of protective equipment that we have on so that we don’t get sick, and we don’t let them expose other people.”

What has been most infuriating, however, is seeing people ignoring the guidelines around physical distancing.

“It’s incredibly frustrating because we see the effect of this thing with some of our patients,” Fan says.

“We’re routinely picking up elderly patients that are susceptible, patients that are immunocompromised or on chemotherapy. Those are the ones that are really at risk, and it’s really sad to see people really sick and dying because of some careless individuals.”

Off the clock

At the end of a 12-hour shift, paramedics — like anyone working — need to find ways to rest and recuperate when they get home.

However, working on the front lines of this pandemic, and facing greater risks of exposure to the coronavirus, means having to take extra precautions at home as well.

Fan says he has been spending more time with his family, but has been cautious to not get too close to them. He says he is also cooking a lot more.

“I think it’s important to try and still enjoy life a little bit.”

Cunningham says she was able to sign out some equipment from her gym before it closed, so she's doing workouts in her backyard. She, like many others, has also taken advantage of video conferencing platforms like Zoom, allowing her to do workouts with gym mates or catch up with friends and family.

MacGregor says the daily trials and tribulations of handling this pandemic has had a silver lining as well.

“I think this has brought the front line workers together — not just within the paramedic service, but with our colleagues in emergency services and the health care workers,” he says.

“The communication that we have between them is that we’re all in this together, and together we’ll get through it.”

While some things in life have changed over the past few weeks, Downes says some of the most important things have not.

“I certainly feel the heightened anxiety, everybody feels the heightened anxiety around this whole pandemic,” he says.

“I think it’s important for people to still be kind to one another, to still be human beings.”

 

 

'We all want to get home to our families': Guelph's paramedics on front line of coronavirus fight

News Apr 05, 2020 by Graeme McNaughton Guelph Mercury

The new era of the COVID-19 coronavirus has resulted in changes in the lives of many across Guelph.

It likely means much more time at home — it could be because your work is now remote, you were laid off, or you've taken on the role of teacher.

For the city’s paramedics, who are on the front lines of the fight against the pandemic, it's a totally different story.

Recently, the Mercury Tribune talked with four paramedics from the Guelph-Wellington Paramedic Service via video conference to see what their time on the front lines of the coronavirus fight has been like.

Related Content

Business as usual, in unusual times

Paramedics are there to help people when they are their most vulnerable. Critical to the role is being able to ease people's fear and anxiety. But with the coronavirus, there's another layer both patients and paramedics have to deal with.

“There’s a level of anxiety, I think, with everybody, including the public as well as the health care providers,” says advanced care paramedic Malcolm Fan.

“We all want to get home to our families, and we’re all trying to really take the precautions that we can to care for our patients.”

Those extra precautions have included the donning of masks, goggles and gloves on every call.

“It is kind of strange because you’re certainly not used to that, and it makes it difficult,” says Connor Downes, another advanced care paramedic with GWPS.

“We’re still transporting the same patients that we’ve always transported with other illnesses and injuries,” adds advanced care paramedic Kirk MacGregor.

He says, along with the extra gear paramedics need to wear to every call, they've also been “doing extra to try to keep the equipment and the vehicle clean.

“So there’s just an extra level of protection for all the patients that we pick up — not just the patients that we think we infected or could be infected with COVID, because we’re still picking up all the same patients that we used to, and we don’t want them to be exposed to anything.”

 

 

Briana Cunningham, a primary care paramedic with GWPS, says she's seen an increased anxiety from patients needing treatment for non-coronavirus related reasons. This is especially the case since an outbreak was declared in one wing of Guelph General Hospital — an outbreak which, to date, has seen 24 hospital staff test positive.

“They’re concerned about if they can go to the hospital — are they going to be exposed there? — and people are definitely scared,” she says.

Elderly patients are particularly anxious about going to hospital, adds MacGregor.

“They know they’re at a higher risk of becoming ill from this. It’s hard when you’re called and you have to convince the person that they should go to the hospital because they’re scared that they might get sick when they end up there for something unrelated.”

“There is a pandemic going on, but people also have medical emergencies that are unrelated,” Cunningham adds. “And if we leave them at home, it doesn’t really matter if they catch COVID or not, because they might not survive the actual emergency that they’re having.”

Downes adds he has seen the same sentiment from those showing symptoms of the virus.

“They’ve got moderate symptoms, experiencing shortness of breath, and they’re asking us, ‘Is it safe there?’” How can I provide assurance to people?” he says.

“Really, the only place you’re safe is at home, when you’re not interacting with anybody. There’s inherent risk anywhere if you go beyond the social distancing measures, right?”

 

 

‘The number is significantly higher’

While local paramedics continue to see patients for all kinds of emergencies, they're also responding to people with symptoms of COVID-19.

“We’re picking up patients every day that have suspected COVID, or symptoms similar to it,” MacGregor says.

Some of those patients have misconception about what paramedics can and cannot do when it comes to helping tackle this crisis — and the moves made by some could potentially put people’s lives at risk, he adds.

“Some of them have already tested positive for it, but we don’t test as a paramedic service, and the hospital’s not going to test patients who come in and just request to be tested,” he says, adding the best thing to do if you suspect you may have the virus is to stay home, call Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health, and follow their directions.

“We have patients who are calling us to have us transport them to hospital, potentially exposing people to this disease when their symptoms are mild, and they could recover at home.”

 

 

With the paramedics reporting seeing patients with coronavirus on a regular basis, the question becomes how prevalent is COVID-19 in Guelph?

“The numbers that are coming out from Public Health are not reflective of how many (cases) are actually in the community,” Fan says.

“The number is significantly higher.”

At the time of this interview, Public Health reported there were 33 confirmed diagnoses of the coronavirus in Guelph. However, not everyone reporting symptoms is being tested, with many showing mild symptoms being asked to quarantine at home for two weeks.

Asked if the real number of cases could be 10 times that, Downes responded, “I agree 100 per cent.”

What’s real, what’s not

With the pandemic being the world’s biggest issue in decades, people are looking for information on what they need to do — unfortunately, with the prevalence of online sources, many of questionable value, the information out there isn’t always right.

Cunningham points to so-called remedies for the coronavirus she has seen online, like drinking hot tea to “flush the disease out,” or do-at-home coronavirus tests, like seeing how long you can hold your breath.

“Those are the ones that are more concerning to me.”

Fan and Downes both say they've seen commentary online that the coronavirus is no worse than a typical flu.

“I’ve heard a lot of people saying, ‘I’ve got a really strong immune system, so I’m not worried,’” Fan says, irritated.

“This is a brand new disease, and we haven’t built up the antibodies to fight this virus. Everyone’s susceptible, even the young.”

“The flu is not transmitted nearly as easy as this, and you can be vaccinated for the flu,” Downes adds.

“There is no vaccine for this.”

 

 

Another misconception is the idea paramedics won’t respond to patients who report symptoms from COVID-19 — it's a notion that has led some people to lie when they call 911.

“All of our patients are going to still receive the same care that we’re trained to provide,” Fan says.

MacGregor adds that 911 dispatchers are screening callers so paramedics can show up prepared.

“Be honest with them and tell them if you have symptoms because that’s not going to change the care you’re getting,” he says.

“It might just change the level of protective equipment that we have on so that we don’t get sick, and we don’t let them expose other people.”

What has been most infuriating, however, is seeing people ignoring the guidelines around physical distancing.

“It’s incredibly frustrating because we see the effect of this thing with some of our patients,” Fan says.

“We’re routinely picking up elderly patients that are susceptible, patients that are immunocompromised or on chemotherapy. Those are the ones that are really at risk, and it’s really sad to see people really sick and dying because of some careless individuals.”

Off the clock

At the end of a 12-hour shift, paramedics — like anyone working — need to find ways to rest and recuperate when they get home.

However, working on the front lines of this pandemic, and facing greater risks of exposure to the coronavirus, means having to take extra precautions at home as well.

Fan says he has been spending more time with his family, but has been cautious to not get too close to them. He says he is also cooking a lot more.

“I think it’s important to try and still enjoy life a little bit.”

Cunningham says she was able to sign out some equipment from her gym before it closed, so she's doing workouts in her backyard. She, like many others, has also taken advantage of video conferencing platforms like Zoom, allowing her to do workouts with gym mates or catch up with friends and family.

MacGregor says the daily trials and tribulations of handling this pandemic has had a silver lining as well.

“I think this has brought the front line workers together — not just within the paramedic service, but with our colleagues in emergency services and the health care workers,” he says.

“The communication that we have between them is that we’re all in this together, and together we’ll get through it.”

While some things in life have changed over the past few weeks, Downes says some of the most important things have not.

“I certainly feel the heightened anxiety, everybody feels the heightened anxiety around this whole pandemic,” he says.

“I think it’s important for people to still be kind to one another, to still be human beings.”

 

 

'We all want to get home to our families': Guelph's paramedics on front line of coronavirus fight

News Apr 05, 2020 by Graeme McNaughton Guelph Mercury

The new era of the COVID-19 coronavirus has resulted in changes in the lives of many across Guelph.

It likely means much more time at home — it could be because your work is now remote, you were laid off, or you've taken on the role of teacher.

For the city’s paramedics, who are on the front lines of the fight against the pandemic, it's a totally different story.

Recently, the Mercury Tribune talked with four paramedics from the Guelph-Wellington Paramedic Service via video conference to see what their time on the front lines of the coronavirus fight has been like.

Related Content

Business as usual, in unusual times

Paramedics are there to help people when they are their most vulnerable. Critical to the role is being able to ease people's fear and anxiety. But with the coronavirus, there's another layer both patients and paramedics have to deal with.

“There’s a level of anxiety, I think, with everybody, including the public as well as the health care providers,” says advanced care paramedic Malcolm Fan.

“We all want to get home to our families, and we’re all trying to really take the precautions that we can to care for our patients.”

Those extra precautions have included the donning of masks, goggles and gloves on every call.

“It is kind of strange because you’re certainly not used to that, and it makes it difficult,” says Connor Downes, another advanced care paramedic with GWPS.

“We’re still transporting the same patients that we’ve always transported with other illnesses and injuries,” adds advanced care paramedic Kirk MacGregor.

He says, along with the extra gear paramedics need to wear to every call, they've also been “doing extra to try to keep the equipment and the vehicle clean.

“So there’s just an extra level of protection for all the patients that we pick up — not just the patients that we think we infected or could be infected with COVID, because we’re still picking up all the same patients that we used to, and we don’t want them to be exposed to anything.”

 

 

Briana Cunningham, a primary care paramedic with GWPS, says she's seen an increased anxiety from patients needing treatment for non-coronavirus related reasons. This is especially the case since an outbreak was declared in one wing of Guelph General Hospital — an outbreak which, to date, has seen 24 hospital staff test positive.

“They’re concerned about if they can go to the hospital — are they going to be exposed there? — and people are definitely scared,” she says.

Elderly patients are particularly anxious about going to hospital, adds MacGregor.

“They know they’re at a higher risk of becoming ill from this. It’s hard when you’re called and you have to convince the person that they should go to the hospital because they’re scared that they might get sick when they end up there for something unrelated.”

“There is a pandemic going on, but people also have medical emergencies that are unrelated,” Cunningham adds. “And if we leave them at home, it doesn’t really matter if they catch COVID or not, because they might not survive the actual emergency that they’re having.”

Downes adds he has seen the same sentiment from those showing symptoms of the virus.

“They’ve got moderate symptoms, experiencing shortness of breath, and they’re asking us, ‘Is it safe there?’” How can I provide assurance to people?” he says.

“Really, the only place you’re safe is at home, when you’re not interacting with anybody. There’s inherent risk anywhere if you go beyond the social distancing measures, right?”

 

 

‘The number is significantly higher’

While local paramedics continue to see patients for all kinds of emergencies, they're also responding to people with symptoms of COVID-19.

“We’re picking up patients every day that have suspected COVID, or symptoms similar to it,” MacGregor says.

Some of those patients have misconception about what paramedics can and cannot do when it comes to helping tackle this crisis — and the moves made by some could potentially put people’s lives at risk, he adds.

“Some of them have already tested positive for it, but we don’t test as a paramedic service, and the hospital’s not going to test patients who come in and just request to be tested,” he says, adding the best thing to do if you suspect you may have the virus is to stay home, call Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health, and follow their directions.

“We have patients who are calling us to have us transport them to hospital, potentially exposing people to this disease when their symptoms are mild, and they could recover at home.”

 

 

With the paramedics reporting seeing patients with coronavirus on a regular basis, the question becomes how prevalent is COVID-19 in Guelph?

“The numbers that are coming out from Public Health are not reflective of how many (cases) are actually in the community,” Fan says.

“The number is significantly higher.”

At the time of this interview, Public Health reported there were 33 confirmed diagnoses of the coronavirus in Guelph. However, not everyone reporting symptoms is being tested, with many showing mild symptoms being asked to quarantine at home for two weeks.

Asked if the real number of cases could be 10 times that, Downes responded, “I agree 100 per cent.”

What’s real, what’s not

With the pandemic being the world’s biggest issue in decades, people are looking for information on what they need to do — unfortunately, with the prevalence of online sources, many of questionable value, the information out there isn’t always right.

Cunningham points to so-called remedies for the coronavirus she has seen online, like drinking hot tea to “flush the disease out,” or do-at-home coronavirus tests, like seeing how long you can hold your breath.

“Those are the ones that are more concerning to me.”

Fan and Downes both say they've seen commentary online that the coronavirus is no worse than a typical flu.

“I’ve heard a lot of people saying, ‘I’ve got a really strong immune system, so I’m not worried,’” Fan says, irritated.

“This is a brand new disease, and we haven’t built up the antibodies to fight this virus. Everyone’s susceptible, even the young.”

“The flu is not transmitted nearly as easy as this, and you can be vaccinated for the flu,” Downes adds.

“There is no vaccine for this.”

 

 

Another misconception is the idea paramedics won’t respond to patients who report symptoms from COVID-19 — it's a notion that has led some people to lie when they call 911.

“All of our patients are going to still receive the same care that we’re trained to provide,” Fan says.

MacGregor adds that 911 dispatchers are screening callers so paramedics can show up prepared.

“Be honest with them and tell them if you have symptoms because that’s not going to change the care you’re getting,” he says.

“It might just change the level of protective equipment that we have on so that we don’t get sick, and we don’t let them expose other people.”

What has been most infuriating, however, is seeing people ignoring the guidelines around physical distancing.

“It’s incredibly frustrating because we see the effect of this thing with some of our patients,” Fan says.

“We’re routinely picking up elderly patients that are susceptible, patients that are immunocompromised or on chemotherapy. Those are the ones that are really at risk, and it’s really sad to see people really sick and dying because of some careless individuals.”

Off the clock

At the end of a 12-hour shift, paramedics — like anyone working — need to find ways to rest and recuperate when they get home.

However, working on the front lines of this pandemic, and facing greater risks of exposure to the coronavirus, means having to take extra precautions at home as well.

Fan says he has been spending more time with his family, but has been cautious to not get too close to them. He says he is also cooking a lot more.

“I think it’s important to try and still enjoy life a little bit.”

Cunningham says she was able to sign out some equipment from her gym before it closed, so she's doing workouts in her backyard. She, like many others, has also taken advantage of video conferencing platforms like Zoom, allowing her to do workouts with gym mates or catch up with friends and family.

MacGregor says the daily trials and tribulations of handling this pandemic has had a silver lining as well.

“I think this has brought the front line workers together — not just within the paramedic service, but with our colleagues in emergency services and the health care workers,” he says.

“The communication that we have between them is that we’re all in this together, and together we’ll get through it.”

While some things in life have changed over the past few weeks, Downes says some of the most important things have not.

“I certainly feel the heightened anxiety, everybody feels the heightened anxiety around this whole pandemic,” he says.

“I think it’s important for people to still be kind to one another, to still be human beings.”