SAINT PAUL, Minn. – As college campuses around the country reopen, more than 200 student-run EMS programs are bracing for the inevitable surge in on-campus COVID-19 cases.
“I don’t think it will fully hit me until we gear up and I am headed out to that first call,” said Hannah Gilbert.
Gilbert is co-president of the student-run EMS program at Macalester College in Minnesota. The school is allowing some students to return to campus, mostly first-year international students, while the rest of the student body will start the semester with online classes. Later in the semester, Macalester may slowly transition more classes to in-person, depending on the containment of COVID-19.
With the expectation of, at least, some student returning to campus, MAC-EMS is preparing for the possible surge in COVID-19 cases by, first, increasing service from two days a week to seven days a week this semester.
“We need to put the work in so that we are prepared for every situation we can imagine, and we have to be ready to adapt to every situation we can’t imagine,” said Gilbert.
The college is also stockpiling PPE gear for the student EMTs, while Gilbert is leading refresher courses in providing oxygen, opening airways, and even responding to a cardiac arrest situation, since those are the most troubling symptoms connected with COVID-19.
“It is definitely something that is different because we don’t normally see a lot of respiratory situations, that is not the normal patient load,” said Macalester College Student EMT Kate Seeger.
New COVID-19-related protocols have also been written into the student EMT handbook. The biggest change is, when possible, EMTs will now start a call with a virtual screening.
“We are actually going to be zooming them, or facetiming or Skyping them from outside their room,” said Gilbert.
The goal with virtual screenings is to determine their risk of exposure to COVID-19 and what PPE gear is needed to provide service safely. However, the hope is that all this training and preparations isn’t as necessary as some experts suggest.
“We wish we could be on the frontlines of prevention, and we are definitely going to be out there trying to be good role models for our peers, but at the same time instinctively and intrinsically we are the ones who show up when there is an emergency,” said Gilbert. “A lot has to go wrong before you get to that emergency, so you can’t just rely on us.”
Student EMTs at Macalester College, and at other colleges around the country, are relying on their classmates to adhere to social distancing guidelines and other safety protocols so they can now help on the frontlines without being overwhelmed.