Covid surge prompts one Florida county to ask residents to use 911 sparingly

First responders along Florida's Space Coast pleaded with residents Wednesday to think twice before calling 911, as they struggle to contain the region's skyrocketing number of Covid-19 cases.

Jampacked emergency rooms and intensive care units have slowed hospital operations to a crawl, Brevard County Fire Rescue and Emergency Management officials said.

Those delays have forced them into the unprecedented position of asking residents of Florida's 10th largest county to consider other medical options before dialing those three digits for emergency help.

"If you need to call us, call us. We will never refuse transport," Orlando Dominguez, the fire department's assistant chief of emergency medical service operations, told NBC News on Wednesday.

"But we're also conveying to the public that if you've fallen and might have hurt your knee or you have a cough, things like that, that are not emergent or urgent, they should follow up with their primary care physician or go into a walk-in clinic."

He added that officials are trying to "reduce the bottleneck and avoid taking beds from the emergency department from those who really need them."

Even compared to the pandemic's darkest days of 2020, Dominguez said stress on the system "is a lot worse" now.

"I can tell you compared to March or July where we were last year to where we are now, this is a lot worse," he said.

Earlier this week, the county's emergency director echoed a similar message, telling residents to get vaccinated and to exhaust other medical options before turning to the ER if they feel Covid-19 symptoms.

“It is imperative that we pull together, we get through this and slow this curve to relieve the stress on our hospital system and our healthcare system so we can take care of everyone who gets sick,” John Scott said.

The number of new Covid related hospital admissions in Brevard County went up 24.59 percent last week, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data. Dominguez said his EMTs on the ground paint a bleak and busy picture.

"What's being conveyed to me is that there's no more room," he said. "They're at overcapacity. They're full."

Florida has been a focal point of the nation's struggle with the Delta variant, particularly as Sunshine State children get ready to return to campus and Gov. Ron DeSantis limits what educators can do to prevent spread.