County asks residents to use 911 sparingly amid COVID surge

Officials in one Florida county are calling on residents to use emergency hotlines in moderation as a surge in COVID-19 cases overflow local hospitals and inundate ambulance services. Mark Schollmeyer, the Brevard County fire chief, explained how the surge is creating issues for first responders. 

“There is a capacity issue at our local hospitals dealing with this new surge in COVID-19,” Schollmeyer told CBS News. “Crowding in the ERs has caused us to hold the wall and wait for our patients to offload before we run the next call.”

Schollmeyer said residents should use 911 sparingly for non-emergency issues and consider other options such as contacting a primary care physician or utilizing telemedicine before calling ambulance services. “Leave emergency room and ambulance trips for those with life-threatening or serious emergencies,” he said.

In recent weeks, the surge of COVID patients admitted to local hospitals has created capacity problems, which causes backups with ambulance services, Schollmeyer told CBS News. 

Brevard County — the 10th-largest in the state — reported 3,836 virus cases from the week of July 30 to August 5, with a new case positivity rate of 22.6%, according to the Florida Department of Health. Only 19.2% of the county’s hospital beds are available, health officials reported.

Brevard County 911 COVID
A treatment tent outside the emergency department at Palm Bay Hospital in Brevard County, Florida, on July 29, 2021.  Paul Hennessy/SOPA/LightRocket/Getty

In the past week, the county saw a 24.6% increase in new hospital admissions for COVID-19 patients and an 11% increase in intensive care unit beds used by COVID patients, according to data from the CDC. 

The three hospital systems in Brevard County have reported being over capacity this week, resulting in elective surgery cancellations and converting regular hospital space into virus-designated spaces, according to the county’s emergency director John Scott. He said the surge creates safety concerns for patients hospitalized who do not have COVID.

Brevard Health Alliance announced this week that they will be limiting visitors to those only who are “medically necessary” for patient’s appointments. The county’s largest hospital system, Health First, told Florida Today, that they built a refrigerated trailer to be used as a potential morgue in order to accommodate the influx of COVID-19 patients. 

Brevard County 911
A treatment tent outside the emergency department at Palm Bay Hospital in Brevard County, Florida, on July 29, 2021. Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty

“It is imperative that we pull together, we get through this and slow this curve to relieve the stress on our hospital system and our healthcare system so we can take care of everyone who gets sick,” Scott said. 

He encouraged eligible residents to get vaccinated, wear a face mask and practice social distancing along with “good hand hygiene.” 

“Return to what we know helps slow the spread when it comes to COVID,” he said.