BENSON – Three Johnston County EMS workers who recently tested positive for COVID-19 are expected to make a complete recovery. However, Johnston County officials say they will not notify patients who were on ambulances and were treated by the EMS workers.
Johnston County Emergency Services Director Kevin Hubbard told Johnston County Commissioners on Monday that three personnel at the Benson EMS Station had recently tested positive for coronavirus. One EMS worker tested positive about three weeks ago, a second worker about two weeks ago, and the third employee was confirmed early last week.
“All are healthy and doing well,” Hubbard said Tuesday, adding all other Johnston County EMS workers who came in contact with the three individuals were notified and tested. “”Everyone considered a primary contact for each employee was offered a test and all took the test.” Fortunately, no additional employees tested positive.
Hubbard said two of the employees are already back at work. The third EMS worker is expected to return to active duty by the end of this week.
Hubbard said Tuesday the patients weren’t notified because paramedics wear masks when interacting with the sick and injured. “No matter what type of call, at the very least they’re wearing a mask. On the 911 screening side, or after they arrive and suspect COVID-19, they change to a respirator mask. No patients is directly exposed to any EMS worker.”
Hubbard also said he didn’t know the number of patients treated by the three individuals. “We didn’t run the numbers. Based on CDC guidelines, it only goes back two days from confirmation of a positive test. They did not run a large amount of calls. Based on PPE (personal protective equipment) they were protected.”
Johnston County Health Department Director Dr. Marilyn Pearson said, “When determining exposure risk, we utilize the CDC guidelines and perform a risk assessment on all cases. For the duration of all calls, EMS personnel wear full PPE which minimizes exposure to patients and staff. This is all the information I can share at this time.”
Pearson said the health department did not know exactly when or where the 3 EMS workers were exposed, including if the exposure came while they were on duty. “Most of our cases have been community acquired.”
Johnston County Report submitted a Public Records Request Wednesday to determine how many calls the Benson EMS station responded to during the period the three EMS workers had COVID-19 prior to being diagnosed. We learned there were 185 calls dispatched during that time period but because employee personnel records are private information we don’t have any way of knowing how many of those 185 calls they were on.
After our inquiry, Dr. Pearson emailed us late-Wednesday and said she had reached out to Mr. Hubbard and they did some additional research. “There were three patients treated and transported by the affected employees.”
Even though the number of patients is low, county officials won’t be notifying those patients or their families. Hubbard says CDC guidelines don’t require them to do so and they are not “primary contact”.
According to the CDC website, anyone who was exposed to a person who tested positive that was in close contact (less than 6 feet) for prolonged exposure should be notified if the contact was made 48 hours prior to having symptoms until quarantine was completed. There is no exemption for notification if the exposure came from a healthcare worker or if they were wearing mask.