Minneapolis sees ‘noticeable’ increase in 911 calls tied to coronavirus

Minneapolis 911 responder
Minneapolis 911 responder. Photo courtesy the City of Minneapolis

Minneapolis police are already seeing a “noticeable” increase in 911 medical calls related to the coronavirus, spokesperson John Elder said at a March 17 press conference.

Officials asked people not to call 911 just because they suspect they have COVID-19.

“The goal is to reserve 911 for true emergencies,” said Marty Scheerer, chief of Hennepin County’s Emergency Medical Services department. “It’s kind of back to 1950s-type medication and treatments for this disease. There’s not a lot we can do for you.”

To limit exposure, Hennepin County is reducing the number of first responders answering calls. A firefighter crew may come unaccompanied by an ambulance or police officers. “Our response levels may change will change based on call volume, staffing and the type of emergencies,” Scheerer said. 

Emergency responders will arrive wearing masks, goggles, gowns and sometimes scrubs. The county has “many thousands” of N95 masks, Scheerer said, but to conserve the supply, crews are being asked to use an N95 mask up to five times before discarding it.

“We’ll be keeping our distance away from you, standing at the doorway or only sending one responder in to talk to you at a time,” Scheerer said. “Many, if not most of us, will contract the virus.”

Hennepin County Sheriff Dave Hutchinson said no inmates have yet tested for the virus, and sick inmates are being isolated. “If it gets worse, we’ll release people who are non-violent,” he said.