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Emergency Medical Systems in Kern Show Signs of Recovery After ‘Insane’ COVID Surge

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Emergency medical services workers may finally get to breathe a sigh of relief after Kern County’s emergency medical services system finally hit levels not seen since the early part of the coronavirus winter surge.

In another sign that COVID-19 is declining, Kern County Public Health Services has returned the county’s EMS System Surge Plan to the lowest of four tiers due to improvement in 911 call volume, increased ambulance availability, lower offload times and percentage of staff impacted by COVID-19.

Enacted as COVID-19 cases were skyrocketing at the end of December, the plan was meant to protect the county’s medical system as patients threatened to overwhelm it.

In July and August, the county had needed state ambulance “strike teams” to keep up with the demand.

“It was insane,” said Jeff Fariss, EMS program manager for the Kern County Public Health Services Department. “The call volumes were through the roof and the number of COVID calls that were being run were having an effect on our system.”

A key part of the plan was a change in how EMS personnel responded to calls for patients who did not need immediate medical assistance. Instead of taking the caller to an emergency room in an ambulance, EMS staff would either advise the caller to seek treatment with their primary care provider or urgent care.

In February though, EMS saw a significant drop in the number of patients seeking care.

“Now, hopefully with people getting vaccinated, people are taking this seriously and doing the social distancing, and the masks. And hopefully everything that we’ve been asked to do over the past year is making a difference,” said Hall Ambulance spokesman Mark Corum.

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