'It's just such a stealthy virus': Trumbull EMS taking precautions while awaiting COVID vaccines

Members of Trumbull EMS, from left, Matthew Pond, Chief Leigh Goodman, Meg Zeitler, Andrew Weber, Lauren Pettinella, and Eric Diaz.

Members of Trumbull EMS, from left, Matthew Pond, Chief Leigh Goodman, Meg Zeitler, Andrew Weber, Lauren Pettinella, and Eric Diaz.

Brian A. Pounds / Hearst Connecticut Media

TRUMBULL — The town’s EMS staff is expected to soon receive the COVID-19, but Chief Leigh Goodman said she is still taking precautions.

“Our crews are Tier 1A,” Goodman said.

For vaccination purposes, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention divides the population into tiers, with emergency responders and critical care hospital employees at the top of the list.

“We registered everyone with the CDC, and we are already starting to get contacted to schedule their vaccinations.”

But even with Trumbull EMS potentially being just weeks away from being protected from the disease, Goodman is looking to add a few per-diem people to the roster if cases spike or if potential side effects from the vaccine cause EMTs to miss shifts.

“The last thing we want is to vaccinate everybody the same day, and then the next day they’re all under the weather,” she said.

The additional paramedics can also help prevent the staff from burning out, she said.

“This has been such a long pandemic, and everyone has done so much to get us through, that we don’t want to have to have current staff pick up the slack,” Goodman said. “It’s a preemptive decision to safeguard us against that.”

Goodman told the EMS Commission in her latest report that the department has weathered the past nine months relatively well. Despite transporting more than 170 patients with COVID-19, there had only been “one or two” staffers who tested positive, she said.

Contact tracing showed the staffers who tested positive had not contracted COVID from patients or other EMS workers, and none had exposed any other staffers or patients to the disease, Goodman said.

“We always wore masks, and took lots of additional preventative steps,” she said.

For example, if a family member of an EMS worker wasn’t feeling well, even if their symptoms were not typically associated with COVID-19, the staff member has been required to wear an upgraded N-95 mask instead of a surgical mask, Goodman said.

Goodman said the squad has transported more than 170 COVID-positive patients since the start of the pandemic. She said 70 percent of them were during the initial surge in March and April.

COVID calls slowed significantly between May and October, before surging again after Halloween, Goodman said. She said 20 percent of all of the COVID calls have occurred in the last few weeks.

She said many of the patients seemed to have been following the COVID safety guidelines.

“These people had traveled out of state, but they had followed the rules,” she said. “It’s just such a stealthy virus. You can be walking around and not have it show up, then a week later test positive.”