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How the Colfax Rescue Squad is handling COVID-19

By LeAnn R. Ralph

COLFAX —  The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a number of changes in how the Colfax Rescue Squad operates.

One change is that the Colfax Rescue Squad can no longer administer nitrous oxide for pain because it is an aerosolized treatment that could cause the coronavirus to be spread by aerosolized droplets, said Don Knutson, rescue squad director, at the Colfax Rescue Squad’s annual meeting August 19.

Representatives from each of the municipalities served by the Colfax Rescue Squad attend the annual meeting. In past years, all of the representatives met in person at the rescue squad building.

This year, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Knutson asked those who had the capability to attend the meeting online using the Go-to-meeting platform to cut down on the number of people in the rescue squad building.

Another change caused by COVID-19 is that all of the EMTs have been directed to wear a cloth mask or a surgical mask whenever there is someone in the room with them at the rescue squad station, Knutson said.

EMTS also wear a mask and gloves on every ambulance call, and patients receive a mask to wear as well, he said.

When someone calls 911 for an ambulance, Dunn County dispatch asks screening questions and then advises the Colfax Rescue Squad of the probability of a COVID-19 patient. If there is a higher probability of a COVID patient, EMTs will wear an N95 or higher mask, a gown, gloves and a face shield, Knutson said.

Only one EMT will approach the patient, and if it is possible for the patient to walk, the patient will be asked to walk to the ambulance, he said.

The ambulances are disinfected after every call. EMTs use UV light to kill the virus in the ambulance and at the rescue squad building. The rooms at the station are disinfected regularly, Knutson said.

Instead of meeting in person for training and for other meetings, the EMTs use virtual meeting technology to limit the number of people at the meetings, he said.

Ordering supplies has changed because of the pandemic, too, Knutson said.

When ordering Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), instead of the usual five days to receive the supplies before, it now takes from six to eight weeks for supplies to arrive. And in addition to the extra time to receive the supplies, Knutson said he must check with vendors each time on pricing and availability of the supplies.

The EMTs also are checked regularly for signs of fever. If someone has a fever of over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, that person goes home immediately, he said.

Report

In his director’s report, Knutson noted that the year started out at a record pace for calls and then, after the pandemic started, slowed down when people started going to the hospital only if they were really sick.

Last year, the Colfax Rescue Squad had 500 calls.

Then the number of calls picked up again, and “I think we will continue this roller coaster until a vaccine is found. Meaning our costs and revenue will ebb and flow at varying degrees month by month,” Knutson wrote.

EMTs to staff the rescue squad have been available for the most part, although some were self-quarantined because of exposure at their “other jobs,” according to Knutson’s report.

One ambulance crew had to self monitor for symptoms after a confirmed exposure to COVID-19, he wrote.

DC cases

The day before the rescue squad annual meeting, the number of cases of COVID-19 in Dunn County was 142, Knutson said.

“The numbers are increasing. They are still going up,” he said.

As of August 21 according to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services website, the number of cases in Dunn County had reached 152.

As of August 21, Wisconsin had over 69,000 cases of COVID-19 and 1,068 deaths.

One good source of information about the pandemic in Dunn County is KT Gallagher’s weekly update broadcast on Facebook Live every Friday afternoon, Knutson said, noting that he listens every week.

Gallagher is the director of the Dunn County Health Department and is the county’s health officer.

Medical attention

If you believe you may have contracted COVID-19, when should you seek medical attention?

People with COVID-19 have a wide range of symptoms that can result in mild to severe illness. Some of the symptoms include fever or chills, cough, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, fatigue, muscle or body aches, headache, new loss of taste or smell, sore throat, nasal congestion or runny nose, nausea or vomiting and diarrhea.

You should call 911 and answer the dispatch screening questions when you have trouble breathing, you have persistent pain or pressure in your chest, you are exhibiting new confusion, you have an inability to wake up or to stay awake, or your lips or face are blue, Knutson said.

If you believe you may have COVID-19 symptoms that do not meet any of these criteria, you should call your doctor and arrange for a test. Your doctor most likely will not want you to came to the clinic until you have been tested, he said.

Slow the spread

So what can you do to help slow the spread of COVID-19?

The three biggest things you can do to help slow the spread are wash your hands, wear a mask and social distance, Knutson said.

“The biggest thing is wearing a mask,” he said.

Older adults and people who have underlying medical conditions, such as heart or lung disease or diabetes, seem to be at a higher risk for developing complications from COVID-19, Knutson noted.

The virus is thought to spread mainly from person to person between people who are in close contact, which is within six feet of each other. The virus also is believed to spread through respiratory droplets when someone coughs or sneezes, he said.

People should keep six feet of distance between themselves and people who do not live in their household, Knutson said.

Six feet is a distance of two arms’ length.

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