Rising COVID Infections Leave Testing Sites With Staff Shortages

COVID-19 is taking its toll on ambulance companies running testing sites as they try to meet high demand

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The surge in COVID-19 infections is straining resources and causing staffing shortages across the workforce, including the EMS industry.

Some ambulance companies are running testing sites at a time when there's record demand for COVID-19 testing.

Four firefighters and seven police officers were called to the main testing site in Randolph, Massachusetts, to help with COVID-19 testing efforts, as Cataldo Ambulance Services, the company that's running the site, struggles with demand.

Tuesday saw the second busiest night for testing at the first-come, first-serve testing site at the Joseph Zapustas Ice Arena with 1,306 PCR tests performed in five hours. Monday saw a record 1,450 PCR tests.

"We're seeing this virus take a toll on our staff members, just like any other business," said Cataldo Ambulance Services Vice President Dan Hoffenberg.

Hoffenberg said their testing site in Randolph is usually staffed with six to nine people, but lately, that hasn't been enough.

"The demand has just increased so dramatically in the past four weeks, it's just been really difficult to keep up with, and add the staffing shortages on top of that, this is what you get," he added.

Long lines are leading to high wait times at sites across the state. It has prompted cities and towns to use their resources to make up for the staffing shortages.

"Our fire department and police department have been pulling lots of extra shifts to help with all of this and make sure that people are safe," said Randolph Program Coordinator Liz Larosee.

The omicron variant hitting the EMS industry, pulling about 20% of Brewster Ambulance staff out of rotation, to the point that national guard were deployed last week to carry some of the load.

"Since the holidays, we've seen our numbers of COVID cases go absolutely through the roof," said Brewster Ambulance Services Director of Operations Domenic Corey. "At present, we have nearly 100 of our staff who are out related to COVID."

The shortages, exacerbated by the recent spike in infections, have been an ongoing symptom of the pandemic.

Oscar Ye, who waited in line for about 30 minutes to get tested, said he is grateful to all first responders for their efforts.

"The weather is pretty chilly, and I appreciate them staying here all this time to work for the better good of the community," said Ye.

Cataldo Ambulance began using QR codes for patients to scan and pre-register online while they wait in line. The tool helped cut down on waiting times from up to four hours on Monday to up to an hour on Tuesday, while helping free up staff to focus on testing.

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