Thunder Bay

'Prepare for the worst, hope for the best': Thunder Bay police, paramedics get ready for COVID-19

Concern over the possible exposure to COVID-19 has led Superior North EMS in Thunder Bay, Ont., to take extra precautions.

Dispatchers screening callers, asking people about symptoms, travel, possible exposure to virus

Superior North EMS paramedics and dispatchers are taking extra precautions out of concern over a possible COVID-19 outbreak in Thunder Bay. (Heather Kitching/CBC)

Concern over the possible exposure to COVID-19 has led Superior North EMS in Thunder Bay, Ont.,  to take extra precautions.

"The way it's spreading, and the number of people that are being affected, is certainly a concern for all our staff," said Andrew Dillon, Superior North EMS deputy chief. "We are doing things differently."

There have been no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Thunder Bay as of March 12;  however, Superior North EMS dispatchers and paramedics have taken extra steps, just in case.

The emergency medical service is screening calls, asking people about recent travel, symptoms, and whether they've been in contact with anyone who has, or is suspected of having, COVID-19.

Paramedics can also do that type of screening on the scene, Dillon said. 

Depending on the result of the screening, paramedics can make use of specific equipment, as well.

"If they're prescreened by dispatch, and we know ahead of time that they've screened positive, then our medics are putting on gowns, potentially extra gloves," he said. "They're wearing face shields, they're wearing masks, they're wearing protective eyewear, prior to even entering the residence, apartment, whatever it happens to be."

Police in Thunder Bay are also concerned about the possible spread of COVID-19.

Thunder Bay police Director of Communications Chris Adams said a COVID-19 outbreak in Thunder Bay would create "a number of challenges" for officers.

Police, firefighters, paramedics working together

"We are currently reviewing our planning and our procedures, and we're very confident that we will have a plan in place that can address the possible eventuality of a very serious outbreak here in Thunder Bay," Adams said. "Obviously, it's a case of planning for the worst and hoping for the best. But we have to be prepared as do our other emergency responder partners out there."

Adams said police are working with Superior North EMS and Thunder Bay Fire Rescue, to keep each other informed, and share best practices.

 "When paramedics arrive on scene, very often it is with police," he said. "We rely very heavily on the paramedics' ability to be able to assist with someone who potentially has a contagious disease, or some medical condition that causes a great deal of concern."

Representatives of Thunder Bay Fire Rescue could not be reached for comment on Thursday.