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Coronavirus infections are on the upswing again – this gloomy news comes straight from the CDC. After two-plus solid years of mask-wearing and other precautions, it just is NOT going away. In early September of this year, NYS posted the frequency of positive COVID tests throughout the state, in a seven-day period, Herkimer County listed a seven-day average of 29 per 100K people; Wyoming listed an average of 2.9 per 100K. (Many at-home tests were not included.)

While the numbers are decidedly lower than in early 2020, it is still upsetting and frightening that the positive cases and hospitalizations are creeping upwards once again. The Covid-19 variants EG.5 and BA.2.86 are proving to have many mutations which make them harder to control. It seems that each new variant of this ever-changing virus seems to find ways to bypass several of the vaccines; the newest vaccine is expected out and ready to be administered later this year. The BA.2.86 variant has been detected in four states by the end of August: in Michigan, New York, Ohio, and Virginia.

Meanwhile, amidst the rising levels of cases, there are also rising levels of “COVID fatigue” in both the general populace and the EMS field. It’s an exception to see someone wearing a mask out in public or utilizing other infection controls that were commonplace in 2020 through 2022. As for EMS providers, stressed from the volume of calls during the height of the pandemic, ranging from unpaid volunteers to those low-paid and working long hours, the thought of facing a rising number of COVID related calls is unfathomable. Through the pandemic, we lost several EMS members in New York – some quit, some got sick, and some died.

While common sense tells us there is value to using PPE, sometimes something as simple as donning a mask, especially just sitting at the building waiting for tones to go out, seems too irritating. Even acknowledging the risk, many EMS personnel, who rightfully view themselves as the heroes in a crisis, also tend to think of themselves as immune to the ills that befall their patients. When the first vaccines came out, there were many providers who rebelled against getting the “vax” until they were basically forced to be allowed to keep working; how will they react to being told they need an updated vaccine? At this point, hospital settings and many healthcare agencies are adopting general masking and other PPE use again.

Fatigue in general seems to be a constant in most EMS agencies, especially when members are short and shifts are long, or the low wages necessitate working more than one job. The call volume during the height of the COVID pandemic didn’t allow for any relaxation time and certainly was wearing on the emotions when patient after patient was dropped at the hospital and you knew they wouldn’t be going home again. The past trauma and the knowledge of increasing numbers again can cause major distress.

With the COVID variants and the lack of personal protections most people are using, we don’t have a real idea of when, if ever, COVID can be fully laid to rest. Protect yourself, and those around you, including patients, coworkers, and family, the best you can.

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