If You Live in These States, "Use 911 Sparingly" Right Now, Officials Warn
These states' resources are tied up in major COVID surges.
The Delta variant has forced the U.S. back into a dangerous position with the coronavirus pandemic. Both COVID cases and hospitalizations have skyrocketed in recent weeks thanks to the more infectious version of the virus now sweeping the nation. And while states across the country are struggling to overcome this unexpected turn, some areas are being hit harder than others. In fact, the COVID situation in two states is so bad that local officials are now warning residents to avoid calling for emergency help unless it's absolutely necessary.
In Florida, hospitals are overrun as the state fights one of the worst COVID outbreaks in the country. More than 91 percent of the state's ICU beds are currently in use, according to data from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). And nearly half of these ICU beds are being used for COVID patients.
Officials in Brevard County are really feeling the heat. According to a statement from county officials, all three hospital systems in the area are over capacity and have already started implementing surge protocols, which includes canceling elective surgeries and converting regular space into specialized COVID units. Mark Schollmeyer, the fire rescue chief in Brevard County, is asking residents to "use 911 sparingly," as ambulances are taking longer to get to people.
"Our ambulances are seeing an increase in hospital times due to not being able to turn patients over to hospital staff," Schollmeyer said. "Use 911 sparingly for non-emergent issues and to save the ambulances and ER trips for those who urgently need those service."
He further added that testing positive for COVID doesn't necessarily mean you need to take a trip to the hospital. "Just being COVID positive but asymptomatic does not always make it a life-threatening emergent condition requiring a trip to the ER," Schollmeyer said. Instead, emergency officials in the county are asking people to take advantage of primary care physicians, telemedicine, or urgent care.
But Florida isn't the only state asking residents to hold off on calling for emergency help. In Memphis, Tennessee, fire department chief Gina Sweat said that the hospital system in the city is "very, very stressed" right now. In just the first 11 days of August, call takers for the Memphis EMS received nearly 5,200 calls, which is an average of 460 calls daily, Sweat said.
"Because of the call volume, we have a system that is being overworked and it's not built to handle this type of call volume. With that additional utilization, there's times when you may call for an ambulance and we may not have one available," she warned.
The entire state of Tennessee is using more than 75 percent of its ICU beds, according to the HHS. In Shelby County, where Memphis is located, new hospital admissions increased by more than 24 percent this week, per the CDC. Sweat said it's taking ambulances in Memphis an average of an hour and a half to get a patient unloaded in a hospital.
"If you ride an ambulance to the hospital, you're not going to get seen any faster in that emergency department, you don't get any privilege, you will be triaged and you will be placed in the waiting room and seen based on your condition and the rate that they can see you," Sweat said. "So don't call an ambulance for a ride to the hospital, it's not going to help you."