The 911 call volume has officially surpassed the volume that New York City’s dispatch received during the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in 2001. New York has become a battlefront in the war against COVID-19.
According to NBC New York, “The FDNY responded to 6,527 calls on Monday, a surge of more than 500 from the day before, a department source tells News 4. A typical busy day consists of about 4,000 calls, FDNY Deputy Commissioner for Public Information Frank Dwyer has said. Last week, Dwyer said the FDNY saw a call volume over a three-day period that he described as the ‘largest in our history.’”
On Tuesday, the FDNY reported via Twitter that they had exceeded 6,500 911 calls in a day: “Yesterday, March 30, FDNY EMS members responded to 6,527 medical calls.” This exceeds the call volume recorded on Sept. 11, 2001. According to CBS news, “‘The call volume on 9/11 hit 5,500 on the day, and we had an average of 3,000 calls a day back then,’ Gandolfo said. Local 2507 President Oren Barzilay also confirmed this number to CBS News.”
Coffee or Die reached out to Lieutenant Paramedic Anthony Almojera and the New York City Fire Department Dispatch and EMS commands but did not receive a response prior to publication.
With the massive influx of 911 calls and subsequent transfers to hospitals, emergency departments throughout the city are overwhelmed. Coffee or Die spoke with an emergency room registered nurse (RN) to gain a first-hand look at what is happening in New York. The nurse, who has asked that we not use his name, has been an RN for 10 years, with the last seven in the emergency department at a hospital in Queens.
He started out reporting that the onslaught of COVID-19 patients began approximately four weeks ago at his hospital. They started with one “rule out,” meaning that they had a patient with potential symptoms who was tested, found negative, and discharged to their home. Later on that week came the first positive case of COVID-19; the patient was isolated and placed on a 1:1 nurse/patient ratio to limit exposure to the virus.
The following week, they began receiving more COVID-19 rule outs and positive patients. The hospital’s isolation rooms reached max capacity within the second week. “The virus spread too quickly,” the RN said.
Due to the massive influx of COVID-19 patients, the layout of the emergency department was modified to control the spread of the virus.
“The following shift, we [had to] change the layout again because 80 percent of the patients coming into the ED are now COVID rule outs and positive cases,” he said. “Our entire ED is COVID now — essentially a giant isolation room — and we can’t take off our PPE and risk exposing ourselves.”
The hospital’s hallways are currently filled with infected patients on stretchers, all wearing masks and being administered oxygen. The hospital had been discharging noncritical patients home with pulse oximetry monitors and home oxygen tanks to prevent them from reaching hypoxic levels. Hypoxia is a state the human body reaches when there is not enough oxygen within the body. According to our source, the hospital is now running low on supplies, and they are unable to discharge patients to home.
The RN also reported a problem that he had never witnessed before. “The alarm went off my last shift — at 6 AM,” he said. “Nobody knew what it was. We looked on the wall, and it’s the central supply alarm reading at 40.” The central supply of oxygen, which supplies the whole hospital with the essential gas, had hit a record low. He explained that no one in the hospital had ever heard this alarm go off, but that they were reassured that the supply would be replenished as soon as possible.
“You come up with a hypothetical worst case scenario,” he said. “It might never happen, [but] it’s actually happening. It’s spreading that quick and hitting people hard, and once it develops into viral pneumonia, you’re fucked.”
He added that the virus is affecting people of all ages and that patients are “completely air hungry coming in off EMS stretchers.”
His greatest concern is the virus spreading to a large number of healthcare workers, consequently lowering the staff and further overwhelming the hospital. To his current knowledge, only two attending physicians and one resident had contracted the virus and have been placed in quarantine. The hospital has taken every appropriate step with rationing PPE in line with guidelines put forth by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), healthcare staff are using the PPE as advised.
Joshua Skovlund is a former staff writer for Coffee or Die. He covered the 75th anniversary of D-Day in France, multinational military exercises in Germany, and civil unrest during the 2020 riots in Minneapolis. Born and raised in small-town South Dakota, he grew up playing football and soccer before serving as a forward observer in the US Army. After leaving the service, he worked as a personal trainer while earning his paramedic license. After five years as in paramedicine, he transitioned to a career in multimedia journalism. Joshua is married with two children.
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