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Coronavirus overwhelms New York’s emergency call system

The coronavirus crisis is overwhelming New York’s emergency call system like never before.

Operators answer a new call every 15.5 seconds. People in panic report that the health of a loved one has worsened. There are numerous heart attacks and respiratory failures and others who call to be assured that a mere sneeze is not an indication that they are infected.

The system is so overwhelmed that the city has begun sending out text messages and alerts on Twitter asking the public to call 911 only “for life and death emergencies.”

As New York falters in the deadliest week of the pandemic, its emergency response system and army of operators and ambulances have been pushed to the limit.

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The Fire Department says it averaged more than 5,500 ambulance orders a day, 40% higher than usual, a volume higher than that recorded after the September 9 terror attacks.

“When you hang up a call, another comes,” says 911 operator Monique Brown. “There is not a minute of rest.”
“It comes one after the other,” says dispatcher Virginia Creary.

Between the torrent of calls and so many people requiring immediate intervention, such as serums and breathing tubes, it is taking longer for help to arrive.

The Fire Department said response times for the most serious calls have been averaging more than 10 minutes, compared to 6 1/2 to 7 minutes normally. People with moderate symptoms or minor problems may have to wait hours.

For most cases, the coronavirus causes minor or moderate symptoms. But for other people, especially the elderly and people with pre-existing conditions, it can cause severe symptoms, such as pneumonia, and even death.

The United States records some 19,700 deaths, about half of them in New York State.

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