Number of 911 calls down despite growing COVID-19 cases in Nashville

Dispatchers adjust to new questioning protocol
Posted at 6:24 PM, Apr 13, 2020

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — The increasing amount of positive COVID-19 cases in Davidson County isn't being reflected on the number of emergency calls.

There's been about a 32 percent drop in people calling 911 and a 28 percent decrease in calls to the non-emergency line compared to this time last year, according to the Metro Nashville Department of Emergency.

Director Stephen Martini said since March 11, a few days after the first COVID-19 patient in Davidson County, there have been 511 calls that could be related to the virus. It's a small blip when observing the overall amount of calls during this time of the year.

Martini said the average number of calls to 911 every week since March 11 is 5,774. The number was 8,493 in 2019. He believed social distancing and available resources to patients like the COVID-19 hotline are among the reasons behind the reduction.

"The most prevalent is the stay at home order," Martini said. "Additionally, we have had those three testing centers around Davidson County that allow folks who are concerned if they're demonstrating symptoms for a place to go so they're not needing to call to have medics respond."

Health officials continue to ask people who may have mild symptoms to stay home instead of going to the emergency department unless they become severe such as difficulty breathing and loss of consciousness.

The department further analyzed numbers by focusing on non-traumatic medical calls from March 1 to April 12. Some of the calls include breathing problems, chest pain, choking, cardiac and respiratory arrest and stroke, some of which could be symptoms for COVID -19.

There were 1,070 of these medical calls the week after the first confirmed case, down 21 percent since 2019. It was 672 last week, down 31 percent since last year.

There are currently 128 dispatchers out of 167 budgeted positions answering calls. Thirty-two are in training. Their protocol has changed since the COVID-19 outbreak, including increased cleaning, some dispatchers working remotely at an undisclosed alternate site and new questioning guidelines by the International Academies of Emergency Dispatch.

In some examples of recent 911 calls, dispatchers go through a set of questions such as symptoms and if the patient interacted with someone who traveled from out of the country or has flu like symptoms. A new question is if the patient is experiencing loss of taste and smell.

"We have a protocol that we're asking additional questions to get additional information if they might be demonstrating symptoms associated with the virus so that our responders are taking the right personal protective precaution when approaching these patients," Martini added.

A Nashville Fire Department spokesperson said the overall incidents have been steady. Out of the department's transports, roughly 30 of them were positive for the virus.

The Williamson County Emergency Communications Office says there's been more than 100 incidents related to breathing problems since March 3rd. Williamson County is where the first confirmed case was found.


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What is COVID-19 (a.k.a. the new coronavirus?)

According to the World Health Organization, coronaviruses (CoV) are a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases. Examples include the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV)and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV). A novel coronavirus (nCoV) is a new strain that has not been previously identified in humans. COVID-19 stands for "Coronavirus disease 2019," which is when this strain of the coronavirus was discovered.

What are the symptoms?

The CDC says patients confirmed to have the 2019-nCoV reportedly had mild to severe respiratory illness with:

  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing

Or at least two of the following symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Repeated shaking with chills
  • Muscle pain
  • Headache
  • Sore throat
  • New loss of taste or smell

At this time, the CDC believes symptoms could appear as soon as two days after exposure, or as long as 14 days.


The CDC is recommending "common sense" measures such as:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a cloth face cover when around others.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.