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Delaware Paramedic On Preparing For The Spike In COVID-19 Cases

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Transporting people suspected of having COVID-19 is risky work, and it's vital.

SCOTT KIER: I love this job. I love taking care of people.

SIMON: Scott Kier in Delaware is one of the people who rides in the back of the ambulance - monitoring patients, trying to keep them stable and calm as they head to the hospital. He's been a paramedic for 20 years.

KIER: COVID being more widespread makes me nervous, absolutely. We're effectively locking ourselves up in a 10-by-10 box with somebody who could be COVID positive for 10, 15, 20 minutes at a time.

SIMON: Scott Kier says his job could be tiring and nerve-racking. When he and his partners were first helping COVID patients back in the spring, the safety protocols they used to protect themselves were new. It wasn't clear how well they'd work. This time around, as infection numbers climb in Delaware, those protocols are habit. The gear is familiar. Scott Kier says he feels better prepared to help, though in some situations, the new rules are difficult to follow.

KIER: When we walk into a patient's home, I'm not going straight up and straight in on a patient grabbing their wrist and taking their pulse. I'm introducing myself from six feet away, asking them some simple questions to figure out what's actually going on with my patient - how critical they are, how involved do I have to get. There are plenty of patients that we encounter every day that might be unconscious or unable to do this who we have to get back into their personal space. We have to get inside that bubble. We do what we have to do. I've been very lucky that I work for a department that has not had any PPE shortages. We're very well taken care of in that aspect of the job. But we have to stay extra vigilant because we're around symptomatic people who could transmit something to us.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

KIER: It's very, very difficult to stay 100% vigilant all the time because our job goes beyond just taking care of the patient. Sometimes you have to help the family out, too. People call us. They call us on their worst days, and they call us to come and try and fix things and bring some level of calm to the situation that they're in. I've had to have a patient's daughter say goodbye to her dad as we took him out of the house, and she did not know when he was going to be coming home again. We do our best to reassure people, but it's certainly challenging. We pick a patient up from a house and their spouse, because of their preexisting conditions, might not be able to go to the hospital with them, and they don't know when they're going to be able to see them again.

My wife is my first priority when it comes to her safety. When I come home from work, I always try to be very conscious of that. A lot of it just has to do with taking my uniform off in a certain room of the house or not bringing it home at all and showering immediately after I get home. And my boots don't come in the house.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

KIER: My wife and I just celebrated our first anniversary last week. But with everything going on, we just had a very low-key night. We have our favorite Italian restaurant that we ordered some food from and just exchanged gifts and stayed in.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

KIER: I think the new normal is a very difficult thing to deal with, but the biggest risk to accepting the fatigue that comes along with a pandemic that comes along with COVID-19 is infection. Preparing for this fall surge that we're seeing right now, for me, it comes down to awareness. It comes down to vigilance with my PPE. And it comes down to making sure that we can keep our patients safe, we can keep ourselves safe. We just have to stay the course at this point. And, you know, hopefully before too long, we can try and get back to some level of normalcy.

SIMON: Scott Kier, a paramedic in northern Delaware.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.