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For 26 Minutes Thursday, No EMS Units Were Available In San Antonio

Turning the standard ambulance into a specialized stroke treatment unit could help.
A gurney is removed from an ambulance.

Due to an increase in local hospitalizations and EMS transports, the City of San Antonio saw a record number of COVID-19 patients and a record number of calls for people believed to be suffering from COVID-19.

Not a single EMS unit was available to respond to calls for 26 minutes on Thursday.

San Antonio’s Emergency Medical Services units respond to various trauma-related incidences and serious medical conditions: heart attacks, traffic accidents and, more recently, COVID-19.

COVID-19 calls and transports have been increasing daily during the delta surge, Mayor Ron Nirenberg said. The fire department responded to a record 117 total calls for patients believed to be suffering from COVID-19 on Wednesday. More than 70 people were transported to hospitals — another record.

“The San Antonio Fire Department informed us that they were without enough EMS units for some time. EMS transports are for everyday emergencies, as well as for COVID-19 patients,” he said.

There were 39 EMS units operating on Thursday, City Manager Erik Walsh reported.

“For that 26-minute period, we can’t transport any emergency medical calls, whether it's COVID or not, whether it's someone who’s vaccinated or not. That means we’re not transporting heart attacks, traffic accidents or any other sort of medical call. It is critical,” Walsh said.

Walsh said the city is working with hospitals to get the EMS units in and out quickly, as well as moving resources within the fire department.

“Fortunately, 95% of our fire crews have at least one paramedic, but the key becomes the transportation to the hospital,” he said. “We hit a high point yesterday (Wednesday) in the number of COVID EMS calls, and I suspect that tomorrow’s number will be higher.”

Nirenberg said it’s a sign of the stress the local hospital system is under. He asked residents who need a coronavirus test to visit a testing site instead of a hospital, if they feel well enough.

“Unless it’s an emergency, please do not go to the ER for COVID-19 testing. Unfortunately, our local hospitals are under severe stress and need to tend to patients who are in critical condition,” he said.

There was a slight drop in local hospitalizations on Thursday, but officials say it’s not enough to be considered a trend. Still, more than 1,260 people are hospitalized with the coronavirus locally — 10 times the number reported at the start of July.

The number of patients hospitalized currently matches the city’s peak during the summer 2020 surge — 1,267 patients. The city’s peak COVID-19 patient census was reported mid-January, with 1,520 patients hospitalized locally.

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Kathleen Creedon can be reached at kathleen@tpr.org or on Twitter at @Kath_Creedon