As New York City's 911 Calls Explode, FDNY Begs Sick People To Call Doctors First

The Fire Department is asking New Yorkers only to "call during an emergency" during the coronavirus pandemic.

New York City’s 911 medical service calls have surged in the last week as the coronavirus pandemic escalates, leading the Fire Department to issue a public request that New Yorkers “only call 911 during a real emergency.”

Call volumes have gradually increased over the past three days, Frank Dwyer, FDNY Deputy Commissioner for Public Information and External Affairs, told HuffPost. On Tuesday, they recorded 5,700 calls, Wednesday 5,800, and 6,000 on Thursday.

“We are seeing record call volume overall, largely due to sick calls, calls where people would be better calling a [doctor] and not calling 911 and looking to go to a hospital,” he said.  

Workers build a makeshift morgue outside of Bellevue Hospital in New York City. The COVID-19 outbreak has quickly overwhelmed
Workers build a makeshift morgue outside of Bellevue Hospital in New York City. The COVID-19 outbreak has quickly overwhelmed local hospitals with patients.

Oren Barzilay, president of Local 2507, a union that represents emergency medical technicians, paramedics, fire inspectors and dispatchers, corroborated this influx, telling Bloomberg on Wednesday that medical emergency calls are up about 40%.

“Our busiest day of the year, we usually do 5,000 calls. That’s usually New Year’s Day. We have shattered a record last night,” Barzilay told the publication. “Due to the spike, we have some calls that are waiting three, four hours to get an ambulance.” 

The call surge comes during a week when the United States surpassed China as the country with the most known cases of the coronavirus, with more than 85,000, according to Johns Hopkins. New York City, as of Thursday evening, had 365 deaths due to COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

Statewide, 100 patients died in a 24-hour period and the number of people hospitalized for the virus had jumped 40 percent in a single day, said New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Thursday.

The Fire Department had received about 20 calls per day about coronavirus up until three weeks ago, Bloomberg reports. Calls jumped to 300 a day last week and have increased since.

The FDNY’s public service announcement and signage tells New Yorkers to “only call 911 during a real emergency” so as to “allow first responders to assist those most in need.”

About the influx of calls, Dwyer said he thinks “people are concerned/scared, and rightfully so, but they need to call a [doctor] if sick, not an ambulance.”

“In NYC, they can call 311 for help locating a healthcare provider, but we need to keep ambulances for true emergencies ... cardiac conditions, difficulty breathing, choking, etc.,” he said.

“We all need to work together to support our EMS members who are handling record high call volume and the [doctors] and nurses working nonstop in hospitals.”


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