Yesterday I gowned up for the first time in two weeks. The patient was from an assisted living complex and had body aches and shortness of breath. He denied a fever or cough, and while he said he had no COVID contacts, we were aware of several cases of COVID in his same rather large residential building. I wore my N-95 mask with a surgical mask over it, a face shield, a yellow isolation gown with a second gown tied around my waist so it reached down to my ankles. I also wore latex gloves. I kept the protective gear on for the duration of the transport and we passed the patient off to the Ed staff in the decontamination room. While he met the criteria for wearing full PPE, I doubt he will test positive. The COVID patient numbers continue to plummet and the rate of people testing positive is also extremely low. Whether or not these numbers will change as a result of the state’s phased reopening or as some would posit, the number of protests, remains to be seen due to the long incubation period before people start to become symptomatic.
I have noticed people have begun to be more lax with their use of PPE. We rarely arrive on scene to see the fire department all gowned in yellow or depending on the town, in their space suits. All responders are still wearing surgical masks, and I don’t expect that to change. As the AIDS crisis brought us gloves that we wear for all patients, so the COVID crisis is going to make surgical masks the new norm. And where a year ago, we may have only worn our isolation gown for a rare possible meningitis call, I expect we will be much quicker to don these gowns for any possible infectious disease. I expect these changes to last, not just in EMS, but in all health care, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see masks become a common facet of our culture, as they are in Japan when flu and other diseases are acting up.
While this COVID epidemic may someday end, I think surgical masks are here to stay.
Hospitalizations are down to 333 in Connecticut.
COVID-19 Hospitalization Tracking Project