In alarming trend, 911 calls for COVID breaking pandemic records in Snohomish County

Snohomish County first responders were first in the nation to see the COVID-19 outbreak 10 months ago. Now, they’re tracking an alarming new trend, a spike in emergency calls for COVID-like illness that’s higher than any other time in the pandemic. 

Deputy Chief Scott Dorsey from Snohomish Regional Fire and Rescue has been in the COVID-19 fight since the beginning. He coordinated the transport of the first U.S. COVID-19 patient to the hospital back in January. Dorsey is in charge of strategic analysis for the department and tracks data related to the pandemic.

“When we look retrospectively at earlier times in the pandemic, the peak in the summer and all the way back into March in the beginning of this, we seem to be eclipsing those numbers pretty rapidly,” he said. 

For Emergency Medical Services, it’s not about tracking more COVID-19 cases, like county and state dashboards do. Dorsey’s data is about more people being so sick with COVID-19 they have to call 911.

“Really all throughout the month of November, we’ve seen a continued, steady rise of calls,” he said. “And that’s the more concerning part for us is where before we’d have a little bit of a peak and then a lull, this one just seems to be building and building and building.”

Control data on emergency calls for COVID now show an epidemic quickly getting out of control. From June to November, COVID calls mostly stayed within a set perimeter. But in November, cases repeatedly breached that limit, each time alerting Dorsey. 

“We’ve had multiple of those [alerts] throughout the month of November, more so than we’ve seen throughout the entire pandemic itself,” he said. “Certainly I’m concerned, that’s kind of our job is to be concerned and to plan for the worst-case scenario and certainly all of that planning is in play.”

Dorsey uses the data to inform his strategic planning and also inform county health officials. In a worst-case scenario, he said paramedics may not be able to send a crew every time someone calls 911. 

“Things would not look the way they do today and that would be a definite sort of wake up to the community of the things that we’re used to expecting from your first responders wouldn’t happen if things continued to spiral out of control,” he said. 

He said the system is not yet overwhelmed and it’s not too late to turn it around, even as COVID cases, calls and hospitalizations spike. 

“It’s not just wearing a mask, it’s not just social distancing, it’s not just changing our Thanksgiving plans, it’s all of these things together that ultimately keep us safe,” Dorsey said.