EMS dispatch directed to stop screening callers for COVID-19 symptoms

EMS dispatch will no longer screen callers for COVID-19 symptoms. (David Bell/CBC - image credit)
EMS dispatch will no longer screen callers for COVID-19 symptoms. (David Bell/CBC - image credit)

Alberta Health Services has directed EMS ambulance dispatch to stop screening callers for COVID-19 symptoms.

The change came into effect last month, "as the number of active COVID-19 cases in Alberta continues to decline," according to a memorandum sent to EMS staff and contracted service providers on July 10.

It is part of a transition into a "demobilization and active recovery plan" and conclusion of operations specific to COVID-19, it says.

However, active case counts are increasing and the virus is now spreading faster in Alberta than during the pandemic's third wave.

The memo was circulated online by Dr. Joe Vipond, a Calgary ER doctor and founder of Masks4Canada, and AHS confirmed its legitimacy.

AHS told CBC News in a written statement Sunday that treating individuals with suspected and confirmed COVID-19 will continue to be a part of EMS work, and teams have full guidance on COVID precautions.

It also emphasized that the majority of paramedics have received both doses of COVID-19 vaccines.

"AHS EMS staff are continuing to follow all AHS guidance in the care and treatment of patients and in the use of PPE," the statement said.

"Continuous masking remains in place at all workplace settings, including clinical and patient areas, and break and meal rooms."

Province moving to suspend protocols

The transition coincides with a broader move toward suspending COVID-19 health protocols in Alberta.

The province announced last week that those who test positive will not be legally required to isolate after Aug. 16, and testing will only be conducted for those with severe symptoms after Aug. 31.

The changes have prompted members of the medical community to protest in Calgary and Edmonton, and concern from Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada's chief public health officer, and Paul Boucher, the head of the Alberta Medical Association.

"The pace at which public health measures are ending is troubling," Boucher wrote in an open letter to members on Friday.

"I do not disagree that moving from pandemic state to endemic state is the future but would strongly advocate for a less precipitous approach."