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In response to these challenges posed by COVID-19, Worcester’s departments enacted new protocols to protect first responders and the communities they serve.
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
In line with Governor Baker's state of emergency declaration on March 10, 2020, the adoption of personal protective equipment (PPE) was at the forefront of major changes for first responders. To protect themselves and others from infection while on call, paramedics were required to suit up in surgical masks, gowns, goggles, and gloves—among other forms of protective outerwear.
In an interview with the Telegram & Gazette from April 2020, paramedic Ron Gigliotti speaks to the prevalence of PPE in the EMS community: “It’s a complete 180 from what we’ve done before. Every single call you go on now, you have to dress for the occasion. You have to wear full PPE. Regardless of their complaint or injury, you have to treat them as though they’re infected and they can infect you, if you drop your guard. It’s affecting every patient interaction. It’s exhausting and taxing."
With these new PPE practices in place—and the panic buying and hoarding that ensued shortly thereafter—it was no surprise that the nation soon faced widespread shortages. On March 3, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) called upon industry and government alike to increase PPE manufacturing by 40% to meet rising global demand. To combat local shortages, Worcester County arranged PPE donation programs, UMass Memorial instated policies for the reuse of disposable materials, and external brands and sponsors donated PPE to individual departments—including Converse, a Boston-based shoe manufacturing company, which donated PPE to the Worcester Fire Department (WFD) on May 15, 2020.
To supplement the protection provided by PPE, first responders adopted extensive sanitation measures to reduce the likelihood of infection. On top of cleaning “every piece of equipment and anything [they] wear that touches [a] patient,” Worcester EMTs utilized the vehicle-cleaning services of ElectriClean, Inc. to disinfect their trucks and ambulances after each call. Additionally, EMS were required to clear every call scene before police or fire departments arrive.
EMS Role Expansion
But for Worcester’s EMS, it wasn’t just business as usual with masks and extra sanitization measures. Paramedics soon became responsible for swab testing the community and running the DCU Center Field Hospital. In particular, EMS stepped up to help transport COVID-positive members of Worcester’s homeless population to shelters and hospitals for additional care.