While Americans watch COVID-19 sweep the country, three states seem to stand out from the others; Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey. These states have seen the greatest impact from COVID-19 with high infection and spread rates. But what is it like on the front lines in one of these states? How are first responders dealing with the pandemic? I want to explain to you what it is like.
In fear of getting fired from my job I choose to remain anonymous but I will tell you that I am an EMT who lives and works on the Jersey Shore. Somehow, I am currently balancing online college classes, volunteer EMS, and a paid EMS job but what is scarier than that is for the last month I have watched a battle against COVID-19 slowly be lost. From the start, the state and has done next to nothing. EMS, fire, and police agencies across the state struggle to keep their employees safe as personal protective equipment (PPE) is running out. Not a word has been spoken to us from the people who are supposed to running the relief effort about what is truly happening here.
The news will show politicians “helping” first responders and nurses but all in all, their help is not enough. Day by day, we continue to reuse our N-95 masks which are supposed to protect us from infection. BUT, these masks are one time use. As long as my ONE TIME USE mask isn’t broken, myself and other EMTs are required to place the mask in a plastic or paper bag until the next use. Not only does this reduce the integrity of the mask, it exposes personnel to COVID-19.
These masks are used up to two weeks at a time which covers dozens of possible exposures to patients with COVID-19. When we speak out about not having enough masks, the threat of job termination looms over our head like a little rain storm that follows you throughout your shift. I wish I was joking but I personally was threatened when I spoke out. A nurse at the local hospital was out right fired when she spoke out about the lack of PPE in her work place.
As other countries have turned factories over to making PPE and distributed adequate amounts to their essential employees, American essential employees are left to fend for themselves and with only hopes that we don’t get exposed.
Health Care providers in America are severely under equipped and the impact shows. As of April 17th, 2020, 13 New Jersey first responders have died from COVID-19. Their reused N-95, hairnet, booties, mesh gown, and gloves were not enough to stop COVID-19 from infecting them and killing these heroes. To make things worse, our uniforms continue to shrink and wear down as they get washed on a daily basis but many agencies can’t afford to provide new ones because the cost of PPE is so high. So as our uniforms are destroyed and PPE supplies continue to quickly deplete, many including myself wonder how we’re going to continue to safely do our jobs and stop the pandemic.
As a result of minimal PPE, many health care workers are afraid to return home to their families. People have been seen sleeping in their vehicles and internet posts have gone viral of workers sending their children to go live with relatives or friends until this all ends. I for one don’t have any option other than to go back to my house.
Although companies like Hilton are trying to provide hotel rooms for health care workers, their programs only reach the big cities. Places like Asbury Park, Seaside Heights, and everywhere in-between don’t get those types of offers. On the flip side some hotels are trying to help with discounted rates. This is a nice offer but for most paid EMTs and paramedics, $100+ a night for a month or more would break the bank. Most don’t even make that much in a single shift. For example, I make $12.50 an hour as an EMT on a 911 response ambulance. My specific ambulance if often the only ambulance covering a population of approximately 40,000 residents and responds to any and all medical emergencies.
In one twelve hour shift, I don’t make enough to cover a discounted single night stay at any of the 5 closest hotels in the area. Instead of knowing that my family is at home with little to no exposure risk, I have no choice to come home and decontaminate myself and belongings as much as possible to try and not bring COVID-19 into the house. The routine of coming home and stripping down naked in a secluded part of the back yard, before going inside has become a normal practice after shifts for not only myself but many coworkers alike.
So as I attempt to wrap this up, I hope that you do your part and at least spread awareness to what is happening to your fellow citizens. I did not write this as a political stunt, this isn’t here to bash any specific person or group of people, it is to show you all, the American people, what the media won’t. All I ask is that you share this, make this viral, let people see what is actually going on. Let us all come together in these trying times and help each other get through this.
If you, someone you love or someone you know needs help, call:
Safe Call Now: 24 Hour Confidential Hotline: 206-459-3020
For more information on the First Responders program: Click here
Or call Shannon Clairemont at 661-466-6352 or Vanessa Stapleton at 304-651-3008