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Portable Coronavirus Testing: EMTs Go Door-to-Door


Cities and states hit hardest by the coronavirus outbreak are starting to send providers out into the field, so they can test patients in the comfort of their own homes. This comes as more patients are choosing to forgo medical care completely. Many may be worried about going to the emergency room, exposing others to the virus, or not having the chance to say goodbye to their loved ones.

If you’re worried that local virus patients are unwilling to come to your practice, you may have to go to them.

Reaching Out to Those in Need

EMTs are going door to door in some of the most vulnerable and poorest areas in the country, including neighborhoods in New York City, Washington, D.C, New Orleans, Las Vegas and Reno, NV to make sure they are identifying and treating as many patients as possible. Door-to-door testing will soon start in Los Angeles as well.

Individuals in these areas may be unfamiliar with the coronavirus, how it spreads, and the symptoms associated with COVID-19. They may not be registered with the medical system or have no insurance. Without Wi-Fi, many individuals remain cut off from the news and the latest virus information. Rumors and misinformation can easily take the place of sound medical advice.

Visiting patients in their homes is also a way of containing the pandemic. If a patient tests positive with mild symptoms, the EMT can talk to them about how to properly quarantine inside their home. If the person needs urgent medical care, EMTs will escort them to the ER in full protective gear to minimize the spread of the virus.

From Minor Symptoms to Life-Threatening Illness

According to the CDC, patients may have mild symptoms for about a week and then the symptoms will either gradually improve or the patient’s condition will drastically deteriorate within just 24 hours. Relatively healthy patients may think they have a mild case of the flu, including headaches, fever, and a slight cough, so they may put off going to the hospital, only to wind up in the ICU several days later.

Sending providers out into the field provides an additional safety net to those who may be fine one day and tragically ill the next.

Preparing to Reopen

In the U.S., the number of coronavirus patients continues to climb, but state and local counts may be inaccurate. If patients choose to stay at home instead of seeking medical care, they likely won’t be tested or counted towards the total. Therefore, the virus is likely much more pervasive than we once thought.

Accurately counting the number of cases is crucial when it comes to reopening the country’s economy. Many states have started opening their doors for business, but New York, California, and other east and west coast states are still months away from going back to normal.

When cases go unreported, reopening the local economy could lead to disaster as these individuals start to leave their homes and go back into the world. Testing patients at home is one of the best ways to make sure these areas are safe to reopen.

What It’s Like to Practice Medicine on the Go

NPR recently shadowed an EMT in the Bronx in New York City as she knocked on doors alerting local residents about the coronavirus.

These EMTs basically function as a one-person medical team. Donned with personal protection equipment, they carry hundreds of testing swabs on their person as they go from door to door, often in crowded apartment buildings where the virus is running rampant.

Healthcare officials have set up coronavirus hotlines in the community so that if someone thinks they may have been exposed, they can call the hotline and set up a telemedicine appointment. The on-call physician will then decide if a test is needed. If so, an EMT will show up at the person’s door to administer a test.

The EMT will then gather a sample from the patient in their living room or bedroom. At the end of the day, they carry out samples to be mailed out to a commercial lab. As word of at-home testing spreads, some neighborhoods have seen a surge in demand for testing. As Mayelyn Rojas, an EMT in New York City, says, “Since they found out that we’re now testing at home, the calls are non-stop.”

Are you undercounting the number of cases in your community?

As the country prepares to reopen, you may be asked to go into the field to start testing patients at home. Remember that these tend to be some of the most vulnerable patients in communities, including older residents, those with chronic conditions, lower income individuals, essential workers worried about their health, and other people that have yet to be tested.

Consider reaching out to patients in your community that often forgo medical care to make sure they are staying safe during the pandemic, including public housing facilities, low-income neighborhoods, and even homeless communities. If you fail to test and care for these individuals, the virus will likely continue to spread throughout your neighborhood.


Steven Briggs
Steven Briggs is a healthcare writer for Scrubs Magazine, hailing from Brooklyn, NY. With both of his parents working in the healthcare industry, Steven writes about the various issues and concerns facing the industry today.

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