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See the latest news and updates about COVID-19 and its impact on the Charlotte region, the Carolinas and beyond.

Charlotte's omicron-fueled COVID surge forces Mecklenburg EMS changes

MEDIC deputy director Jonathan Studnek said he believes Mecklenburg's large number of "excess deaths" is driven in part by people who died from COVID-19 but were never tested.
Steve Harrison
A Medic ambulance is seen in a 2021 file photo.

A surge in COVID-19 cases fueled by the omicron variant is stressing Mecklenburg county’s emergency response capacity.

Medic, Mecklenburg County’s emergency medical services agency, says the number of people needing COVID-related help has spiked in the past two weeks. Meanwhile, the number of its first responders quarantined due to COVID has grown elevenfold.

Add that to existing staff shortages, and Medic Deputy Director Jonathan Studnek says omicron is making it difficult to provide the number of ambulances required. He’s even requested assistance from the National Guard.

Medic is now making changes to meet the rise in demand with fewer employees. Those changes include lengthening the wait time for those who don’t need a rapid ambulance response from 30 minutes to an hour. That could include people, for example, who have been injured but remain fully conscious and have no difficulty breathing.

And when EMS arrives, the team may ask whether an ambulance is necessary.

“If you’re seeking covid testing, if you’re seeking a vaccine or if you’re covid positive and worried, ambulance transport is not an appropriate method to receive medical care,” Studnek said.

Also, Studnek says, Medic will stop transporting patients who need a ride from the hospital to somewhere outside of Mecklenburg County for 30 days.

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Dana Miller Ervin is a reporter at WFAE, examining the U.S. health care system.