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Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

It’s not just the hospitals feeling pressure from the Delta wave — this time around, local ambulance companies are overwhelmed, too.

Why it matters: Across the U.S., wait times for EMS have skyrocketed.

  • The problem is two-fold: The number of patients seeking emergency rebounded quickly from a pandemic lull.
  • At the same time, hospitals are getting overwhelmed in some places. In some rural areas, EMS trucks have to sometimes drive hundreds of miles to respond to calls, even crossing state lines to pick up patients —  only to arrive at hospitals with no available beds.

The big picture: This is a “trend playing out across the country, threatening to erode our nation’s EMS system," Shawn Baird, president of the American Ambulance Association, tells Axios.

  • "It just went one level all the way to 10 in the blink of an eye," Jamie Pafford, of Pafford Emergency Medical Services in Arkansas, tells Axios. "Unfortunately, Arkansas is not a big vaccination state and we have really kind of had our New York moment here lately."
  • In Arkansas, one state where Pafford serves, turnaround times have increased by more than 200%, according to the Arkansas Ambulance Association. The lack of beds and short-staffed hospitals has had Pafford waiting in emergency department driveways with severely ill patients while nurses ran back and forth to switch out her truck's oxygen tanks, she said.
  • States like Wyoming, Oklahoma, Louisiana have also been strapped for resources where geography is not on their side, said Alan Morgan, CEO of the National Rural Health Association.

What's happening: Even places with somewhat better vaccination coverage aren't completely spared.

  • First responders in Austin are waiting up to an hour to hand over a patient to hospital staff.
  • In San Antonio, Mayor Ron Nirenberg said the number of 911 calls and demand to transport people with COVID-19 was so high that on Aug. 12 the city was without EMS units to transport people for nearly half an hour.

Go deeper

Updated 9 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Vaccines: Pfizer coronavirus vaccine safe, effective in children, company says — The COVID booster vaccine discussion is far from over — Cuba becomes first country to begin mass vaccination of children.
  2. Health: Chicago has highest COVID-19 case rates in city worker neighborhoods — International Mission Board to require COVID vaccine for missionaries.
  3. Politics: Biden administration to lift travel ban for fully vaccinated international travelers — Footage shows new details after NYC restaurant incident over proof of vaccination.
  4. Education: More schools using "test-to-stay" strategy to minimize quarantines — Most Kentucky school boards vote in favor of mask mandates —Denver looks to students to close Latino vaccination gap.
  5. Variant tracker: Where different strains are spreading.
17 hours ago - Health

The COVID booster vaccine discussion is far from over

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

An FDA advisory panel may have green-lit a third shot of the Pfizer vaccine for a somewhat narrow slice of the population, but the messy process of figuring out who should get another shot of the vaccine — and when — has likely just begun.

Why it matters: Many vaccinated Americans are worried about their level of protection as the pandemic continues to rage. The piecemeal booster decision-making process may be the best way to keep pace with the science, but it's also at risk of becoming extremely confusing.

Tina Reed, author of Vitals
13 hours ago - Health

More schools using "test-to-stay" strategy to minimize quarantines

Students sit in a classroom at a high school during the first day of classes in Novi, Mich., on Sept. 7, 2021. Photo: Emily Elconin/Bloomberg via Getty Images

After tens of thousands of kids were sent home to isolate due to COVID-19 exposure in the first days of in-person schooling, more districts are starting to pivot toward a "test-to-stay" strategy, the New York Times reports.

What's happening: Many schools are largely using a contact tracing method in which close contacts of someone who tests positive for the virus must isolate at home.