Ottawa·ON THE FRONT LINE

He knows he could be next, but there's a job to do

Renfrew County paramedic Chris Day has accepted the fact that his chances of contracting COVID-19 are higher than most, but that doesn't mean he's not taking every possible precaution to protect his family.

Paramedic Chris Day is taking every precaution, but he's fully aware of the risk

Chris Day gets ready for story time with his youngest daughter, Amyann. The Renfrew County paramedic is taking every possible precaution to keep his family safe from COVID-19. (Submitted by Chris Day)

To be on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic is to accept the grim risk associated with an illness that does not discriminate. 

But Renfrew County paramedic Chris Day is doing everything possible to limit his own exposure, and by extension, that of his wife and three children.

"I have a family to come home to every night. I have co-workers that I interact with. We take our [personal protective equipment] very seriously. We work with a partner to make sure that we're donning and doffing our PPE carefully and safely, every time." 

All suited up: Dressed in his personal protective equipment, Day enters a home in Barry's Bay, Ont., to perform a COVID-19 assessment. (Matt Cruchet)

Day, 44, is part of a specially trained team conducting COVID-19 assessments in people's homes. The idea is to keep potentially infected people isolated for as long as possible to prevent spread.

Is he worried about getting infected? "Absolutely," the paramedic answers without hesitation. 

"I'm careful of what I touch. I'm asking [homeowners] to open the door rather than me having to open the door with my PPE on. That just reduces the number of contacts that I have. If that patient is COVID-19-positive, that just reduces the chances of it being transferred."

Day's children are 12, 11 and five. 'The two older ones, they know what's going on. They appreciate it.' (Kathrine Chapdelaine)

Day showers and changes all his clothes before leaving work. His uniform is bagged and sent to a laundry.

"It doesn't touch the inside of my locker. That way, if [the virus] is on my uniform, I'm not transferring it into my car … or bringing it home," he said.

We're just going under the assumption that I am most likely going to end up with COVID-19.- Chris Day

"I'm constantly using soap and water to wash my hands. When we're on the road we're using hand sanitizer. We wash down the inside of our vehicles both at the beginning of our shift at the end of our shift. All the common touching parts get wiped down with disinfectant rags." 

And then there are the precautions at home in Pembroke, Ont.

"My wife has set up a station at the door. She wipes down all my car keys, my wallet, my cell phone, my work cell phone [and] my cooler," Day said. "I think that gives her a little bit of peace of mind, a little bit of control over what's coming into the house."

But even with all of that, plus the goggles, face mask, gown and gloves he wears on the job, "we're just going under the assumption that I am most likely going to end up with COVID-19," Day said.

Day's kids are 12, 11 and five. "The two older ones, they know what's going on. They appreciate it. They realize it. We are transparent with them. We're honest with them," he said.

Day's wife, Kathrine Chapdelaine, and kids (left to right) Amyann Day, Laurelle Hickson and Carson Day stand in front of a neighbour's balloon-art depiction of the novel coronavirus near their home in Pembroke, Ont. (Chris Day)

"It definitely has an impact on the interactions with my wife and the kids — not knowing when dad is gonna be home or if he's gonna be home today or if it's going to be in three days from now or two weeks from now or maybe longer."

There have been several confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Renfrew County, and one death. Day and his colleagues are bracing for more to come.

"It's not if it's going to happen in Renfrew County, it's a matter of when it's going to happen," he said.

To help with the stress, Day goes running. "With the heavy workload, the long hours we're putting in, I make sure to go for a 10K run on my days off. It seems to really help. When I get home at night I try to decompress a little bit. It's not always easy."

He knows he and his colleagues have a vital role to play, so maintaining their own health is equally vital.

"If we start losing our front-line health-care workers, our paramedics, it's really going to take a toll on how we can respond to the needs of the community."

WATCH: How a Renfrew paramedic and his family are dealing with the spread of COVID-19

Chris Day, a paramedic in Renfrew County, says he’s been administering at-home tests for COVID-19 as part of his job. Because of that contact with high-risk individuals, he and his family have made a plan for what might happen if he contracts the disease. 1:27

Renfrew County residents who want to be tested at home must first call the Renfrew County and District Health Unit at 613-735-8654 ext. 577 and speak to a nurse. There's also a self-assessment tool available here.

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