The Role of EMS During the Pandemic

The last six months have not been easy. I am continually amazed by the exceptional job being done by EMS. Without the wonderful work carried out by prehospital providers the pandemic would be much worse. There are a few areas I want to touch on with this column. The first topic is the importance of wearing masks, second is the importance of serving as a force multiplier for Public Health with the COVID-19 response, third is the use of ketamine by EMS.


EMS agencies are in a unique role in that they are part of their communities and visit people in their homes as a normal part of their job.

The Importance of Wearing a Mask

Wearing a mask at all times is important. Masks serve to protect your coworkers if you are infected with COVID-19. It has been shown that people can be infectious with COVID-19 and not have symptoms. EMS agencies’ ability respond to the community would be compromised if a single prehospital provider without symptoms infected their entire shift. Wearing a mask consistently during your shift will minimize the chances of this happening.

Partnering with Health Agencies

The COVID-19 response will likely be ongoing for quite a long time. Contact tracing, testing, follow up of COVID positive patients, and vaccine administration will be very important. EMS can serve a very important role in assisting local public health agencies with these tasks. I firmly believe that EMS should be a strong partner with Public Health in helping to accomplish these tasks. EMS agencies are in a unique role in that they are part of their communities and visit people in their homes as a normal part of their job. Local cooperation between EMS and Public Health is paramount and minimizing the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on their communities. The NC College of Emergency Physicians is currently developing standardized protocols for the tasks.

Ketamine Use

The scope of practice for ketamine will soon be expanded. There must be local training of providers. In addition, hospitals should be educated about the use of ketamine and aware that patients might arrive at their facilities after being administered ketamine. The decision to use ketamine should be a medical decision made by the EMS providers caring for the patient. It should be reviewed closely by local medical direction. More guidance will be forthcoming about specific system requirements for the use of ketamine. In addition, the NC College of Emergency Physicians is updating the protocols which utilize ketamine.

These are not easy times for health care workers and EMS in particular. Please don’t forget that your job is extremely important. You are protecting your communities and making the world a better place. Thank you for what you do.

Dr. Winslow has worked at Baptist Hospital in Winston-Salem for the past 11 years. He was appointed as the Medical Director of the NC Office of EMS in 2011. This document contains all protocol, procedures, and policies for all EMS agencies in North Carolina.

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