System impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on New York City's emergency medical services

J Am Coll Emerg Physicians Open. 2020 Nov 9;1(6):1205-1213. doi: 10.1002/emp2.12301. eCollection 2020 Dec.


Objectives: To describe the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on New York City's (NYC) 9-1-1 emergency medical services (EMS) system and assess the efficacy of pandemic planning to meet increased demands.

Methods: Longitudinal analysis of NYC 9-1-1 EMS system call volumes, call-types, and response times during the COVID-19 peak-period (March 16-April 15, 2020) and post-surge period (April 16-May 31, 2020) compared with the same 2019 periods.

Results: EMS system received 30,469 more calls from March 16-April 15, 2020 compared with March 16-April 15, 2019 (161,815 vs 127,962; P < 0.001). On March 30, 2020, call volume increased 60% compared with the same 2019 date. The majority were for respiratory (relative risk [RR] = 2.50; 95% confidence interval [CI] = 2.44-2.56) and cardiovascular (RR = 1.85; 95% CI = 1.82-1.89) call-types. The proportion of high-acuity, life-threatening call-types increased compared with 2019 (42.3% vs 36.4%). Planned interventions to prioritize high-acuity calls resulted in the average response time increasing by 3 minutes compared with an 11-minute increase for low low-acuity calls. Post-surge, EMS system received fewer calls compared with 2019 (154,310 vs 193,786; P < 0.001).

Conclusions: COVID-19-associated NYC 9-1-1 EMS volume surge was primarily due to respiratory and cardiovascular call-types. As the pandemic stabilized, call volume declined to below pre-pandemic levels. Our results highlight the importance of EMS system-wide pandemic crisis planning.

Keywords: COVID‐19 pandemic; disaster planning; emergency medical services; pandemic planning.