12 Fraught Hours With E.M.T.s in a City Under Siege
Special units of emergency medical workers in Paterson, N.J., respond to 911 calls for suspected coronavirus, entering homes and putting themselves at risk.
PATERSON, N.J. — “Back up, sir!” shouted Kenny Kiefer, a Fire Department battalion chief, his N95 mask muffling his words.
“What?” replied the frail older man leaning out the doorway of a shelter and addiction treatment center, who had called 911 because he was having trouble breathing. Smiling timidly, he began to venture down the stairs.
Alarmed, Chief Kiefer stepped back and thrust out his palm. “Stay right there!”
A few weeks ago, a 911 call for “respiratory distress” would have sent emergency medical technicians — E.M.T.s — rushing into the building to examine the man and take his vitals. Now with coronavirus infections sweeping through the region, the emergency medical workers of Paterson, a poor, industrial city in the penumbra of pandemic-stricken New York, are working in a new, upside-down reality: Don’t go in a home, don’t touch the patient, and don’t take anyone to the hospital, unless absolutely necessary.
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