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Unvaccinated lead surge in COVID-19 ambulance calls in Northeast Michigan

News Photo by Steve Schulwitz An ambulance at the Alpena Fire Department gets ready to respond to a medical call in Alpena on Sunday. Over the last several weeks, the ambulances have been called often to transfer people with COVID-19 to the hospital.

ALPENA — Far more people unvaccinated against COVID-19 call an ambulance than those vaccinated, local first responders say.

Officials worry the number of medical calls from people suffering from severe COVID-19 symptoms could increase through the holiday season if more people don’t get their shots.

Capt. Andy Marceau, community risk reduction officer at the Alpena Fire Department, said more people in Alpena County need emergency care because of COVID-19 than at any other point of the pandemic.

As of now, he doesn’t have any call volume totals for COVID-19 ambulance responses, but everyone at the department sees the surge, Marceau said.

The chart below shows the number of Northeast Michiganders actively infected with COVID-19, a News estimate based on cumulative infections minus recoveries and deaths. The story continues below the graphic.

“We have been running nonstop, and the majority of the people are unvaccinated,” Marceau said. “We are seeing this with our own two eyes, that the vaccinated aren’t as sick as the unvaccinated. People who call us have general sickness and difficulty breathing. When they can’t breathe, it is a scary situation and a helpless feeling for them.”

As of Thursday, 1,175 Northeast Michiganders were actively infected with COVID-19, down from nearly 1,300 earlier last week as more people survived the 30 days after infection to meet the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s definition of recovered from the disease.

Though the active-infections count has dropped, it remains at a level not seen at any other time during the coronavirus pandemic.

At this time last year, fewer than 500 were actively infected.

The chart below shows the number of Northeast Michiganders 5 and older fully vaccinated against COVID-19. The story continues below the graphic.

The area is still well short of the 70% vaccination rate public health experts have said we have to hit to consider the coronavirus pandemic over.

The state says that, among those 5 and older, about 54% of Alpena County residents, 59% of Presque Isle County residents, 53% of Montmorency County residents, and 56% of Alcona County residents have been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus.

Marceau said paramedics have limited options to help people in respiratory distress. He said first responders can administer high-flow oxygen on the scene and during the transfer, but other treatments have to wait until the patient gets to the hospital.

“There is no magic thing we can do to help them,” Marceau said.

The chart below shows the number of COVID-19 patients admitted at MidMichigan Medical Center-Alpena. The story continues below the graphic.

The Alpena Fire Department paramedics, who provide medical care throughout all of Alpena County, have dealt with the impact of COVID-19 for nearly two years, Marceau said. He said first responders know how to remain safe when working with infected patients and depend on their personal protection equipment to keep them safe. Because of their experience with COVID-19 patients, they rarely feel any fear of becoming infected themselves and focus completely on the job at hand.

“It is better now than what it was early on,” Marceau said. “We take all of the precautions we need to and it is just part of doing business for us. I think the men and women at the department are doing a great job, and have been since the very beginning.”

The last two weeks have consisted of many COVID-19-related emergency calls, Marceau said, but added that everyone has their fingers crossed that the number of infections and the severity of them will begin to diminish soon.

Marceau said he hopes the latest infection numbers continue in the right direction but added that might not be in the cards as the holidays approach and people congregate more indoors, where the virus can spread more easily.

Still, Marceau said, people need to live and enjoy their lives while taking the necessary precautions to protect themselves and others from the disease.

“We are coming up to Thanksgiving and Christmas, and it is the season of gathering, so I’m not so sure we have seen the worst of it yet, but we hope we have,” he said. “But we also can’t quit living our lives all together, either. We just need to be smart, responsible to remain safe.”

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