Dramatic drop in Bay Area 911 calls during the pandemic

Calls to 911 are dropping in the Bay Area during the pandemic and in some cases, people are delaying time to get care, according to the San Ramon Valley Fire Protection District.

The theory is that people may be afraid to go to the hospital because of COVID-19 or they may be hesitant to call 911. SRVFPD Fire Chief Paige Meyer said people simply aren’t calling 911 in an emergency. The agency provides ambulance service for 911 calls from the border of Dublin to Walnut Creek.

“We looked at cardiac calls, stroke calls, and really asthma/respiratory calls and when we looked at those areas, what we were finding was a dip,” Meyer said.

Meyer noted a spike in emergency calls in February, but things changed when the shelter in place orders went into effect. Since mid-March, Meyer said their dispatch center has seen a 32% decrease in stroke calls, a 56% decrease in cardiac calls, and a 50% decrease in asthma or respiratory calls, compared to the same time in the past two years.

“When we did get those calls, the people were in worse shape because they were also delaying care,” he said.

The agency has created a public service announcement to share on social media. It urges people to call 911 in an emergency and assures the public that their ambulances go through a thorough decontamination process after every call for service.

A similar message is being spread nationwide by the American Heart Association. In April, the organization released a statement with seven other health organizations about a drop in the number of people seeking care at hospitals for heart attacks and strokes out of fear of the coronavirus.

Meyer said even though the Bay Area is under orders to stay home, the pandemic can cause added stressors. He said people should not ignore the symptoms they may be feeling.

“At the end of the day, covid is at the forefront of our minds, but we don't want to lose anybody to anything,” he said.