BACKGROUND: The SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus disease (COVID-19) has had a major impact on health care services globally . Recent studies report that emergency departments have experienced a significant decline in the number of admitted patients in the early phase of the pandemic . To date, research regarding the influence of COVID-19 on emergency medical services (EMS) is limited . The present study investigates a change in the number and characteristics of EMS missions in the early phase of the pandemic .
METHODS: All EMS missions in the Northern Ostrobothnia region, Finland (population 295 500) between 1 March to 30 June 2020 were screened and analyzed as the study group . A control group was composed from the EMS calls between the corresponding months in the years 2016-2019 .
RESULTS: A total of 74 576 EMS missions were screened for the study . Within the first two months after the first COVID-19 cases in the study area, the decline in the number of EMS missions was 5.7% - 13% compared to the control group average . EMS time intervals (emergency call to dispatch, dispatch, en-route, on-scene and hospital handover) prolonged in the COVID-19 period . Dispatches concerning mental health problems increased most in the study period (+1.2%, p <0.001). Only eleven confirmed COVID-19 infections were encountered by EMS in the study period .
CONCLUSION: Our findings suggest that the present COVID-19 pandemic and social restrictions lead to changes in the EMS usage . These preliminary findings emphasize the importance of developing new strategies and protocols in response to the oncoming pandemic waves.