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Mercy Flights: Don't hesitate to call 911 during pandemic

As Jackson County marks 15 days without a coronavirus case, paramedics and health officials are asking locals not to hesitate in their calls for help with breathing problems or other medical emergencies.

Mercy Flights says that since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and associated stay-at-home orders, the nonprofit air and ground ambulance service has seen a drop in 911 calls, but a 63 percent spike in “high acuity” calls — described as calls involving patients who are very sick or may become sick, Mercy Flights Chief Operations Officer Tim James said Friday in a news release.

“Some patients are waiting days to call 911 even though they have severe and persistent symptoms,” James said.

In response to the hesitation, Mercy Flights, along with Jackson County Public Health and local hospitals are joining the American Ambulance Association’s national #MinutesMatter public awareness campaign. The campaign seeks to allay apparent avoidance over calling 911, seemingly for fear of exposure to COVID-19 from ambulances, according to the American Ambulance Association’s website.

Dr. Alicia Bond, Mercy Flight’s Medical Director, said in the Mercy Flights release that it’s okay for people in quarantine to call 911 if they’re experiencing a medical emergency.

“Our biggest concern is that time is of the essence when it comes to heart attack, stroke or respiratory distress and we want people to get the care they need immediately,” Bond said.

Jackson County remained at 49 cases Saturday, the same total since April 24, according to Jackson County Health and Human Services data and earlier news reports. Forty Jackson County patients have since recovered.

Across the state, however, the death toll continues to rise. The Oregon Health Authority reported three more COVID-19 deaths Saturday, bringing the number of deaths to 127. The latest deaths include a 76-year-old Clackamas County woman, an 81-year-old Linn County man and a 92-year-old Polk County woman. All three fatalities had underlying medical conditions.

Across Oregon there were 79 new confirmed COVID-19 cases and 13 new presumptive cases, bringing the latest total to 3,160 cases, according to the latest Oregon Health Authority data.

Reach reporter Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or nmorgan@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @MTCrimeBeat.