Halifax first responders preparing for coronavirus pandemic

First responders in Halifax are preparing for the province to be hit by the global pandemic of the novel coronavirus.

“It’s just basically the unknown. We don’t really know what to expect yet,” said Michael Nickerson, president of IUOE Local 727, the union representing Nova Scotia paramedics.

“It’s just a matter of time before it does reach us. I mean, we know that it is coming.”

Nickerson said that while he’s confident the province has preparedness plans well underway, paramedics are concerned about ensuring they’re adequately protected with the proper equipment. They also wonder how they’ll cope with the added strain of a pandemic when they’re already struggling under heavy workloads.

“That’s a concern not even just for the paramedics but health care in general,” he said.

“Hopefully, it’s not a situation like in Italy where we’re having to choose, you know, who lives and who dies. It sounds kind of fearmongering, but that’s what’s happening in Italy right now… Our health-care system in Nova Scotia is already struggling now.”

Nickerson said paramedics are also concerned about how they’ll be paid if they are exposed to COVID-19 and required to self-quarantine for 14 days.

“We don’t think that they should go without money, of course, and it shouldn’t come out of their sick time, either,” he said.  

“All we can do is wait and see what happens.”

In-home testing program to begin next week

During a briefing on Monday, the province’s chief medical officer, Dr. Robert Strang, alluded to the possibility of paramedics doing in-home testing for COVID-19, should it be required. 

Emergency Health Services (EHS) is the privately owned company that manages the province’s ground ambulances.

EHS director of provincial operations Jeff Fraser said the company has been working with the Nova Scotia Health Authority and 811 to create an in-home testing program.

Four paramedics have already been trained to administer the nasopharyngeal swabs required to test for the virus. Two of those paramedics will work out of a Halifax Regional Municipality-based unit, and two will operate in Cape Breton Regional Municipality.

Fraser expects both units to begin operations sometime next week.

“The province is big, but we really want to put them in the area where the most population is. If you look across the world, a lot of the areas that are starting to have clusters, for the most part, are areas that have high concentrations of population,” he said. 

“That’s where community spread is most likely to occur. It’s not that the rural areas aren’t important, it’s just that we’re trying to focus on the two concentrated populations.”

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