Fear of COVID-19 is affecting first responders’ ability to do their jobs.

The Honolulu Emergency Medical Services says it has seen an uptick in coronavirus calls that are not life-threatening, possibly limiting its ability to respond to serious incidents such as heart attacks or strokes.

The department only has 21 ambulances on an island of nearly one million people, said Assistant Chief Korey Chock, and only 19 at night.

“Our resources are a little bit limited, so we want to save them for true emergencies,” he said.

Honolulu EMS has been receiving COVID-19 calls since January, but the numbers have shot up in the past two weeks, he said. An average of about 70 virus-related calls come in each day, with callers reporting flu-like symptoms, sore throat and fever that don’t require emergency care.

Chock said one woman called 911 because she was afraid to pick up her medicine and wanted paramedics to do it for her.

“We’re going to continue to respond,” he said. But paramedics also need to protect their families from the virus. “The less exposure we can give to our providers, the better off we’ll be as a system,” he added.

Members of the public with a less urgent need for medical attention are encouraged to contact healthcare providers or call 211.

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