HFD Chief: Don’t wait to call 911 if you’re having respiratory difficulty

In the last few months, Houston’s Fire Chief says there’s been an uptick of people dying at home before they even reach the hospital. Authorities suspect that increasing trend may be tied to COVID-19 cases that are not being reported.

After a recent analysis of data during the COVID-19 outbreak, Houston Fire Chief Sam Pena says firefighters are responding to 1,100 calls on average each day-- a 30% increase. Many of those calls are for respiratory difficulty.

More frequently, firefighters arrive on scene only to find the person is too far gone, pronouncing them "dead on arrival." Just a few days ago, Pena says HFD broke a new record with 18 deaths on arrival in one day.

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"We can make the correlation that because of COVID-19, more people are dying at home. Usually, we average about five per day, for various reasons. In the last three months, we’ve seen an incredible uptick, almost a 100% increase in some months," Pena said. 

Although authorities don’t know for certain if a person’s death was related to COVID-19 until an autopsy is performed, health officials believe the surge is no coincidence.

Houston Health Authority Dr. David Persse cited a similar trend in New York months ago.       
"There’s a distinct possibility that there’s an undercounting of the COVID related deaths. In order for a death to be recorded as COVID-related, the death certificate has to have something from the physician that says 'COVID-related illness.' It may very well be an undercount. Our colleagues in New York saw the same phenomenon. If you look at New York City, the number of expected deaths that they would’ve had and you add on top of that the number of known COVID-related deaths, and then you look at the actual number of deaths, it was even above that," Dr. Persse said during a news conference Thursday. 


"We have the ability to stop that from happening. Wear a mask, stay six feet apart, don’t go to large gatherings and clean commonly touched surfaces," Persse continued. 

Pena is now encouraging folks not to wait too long to call for help, especially those in minority communities vulnerable to the virus and who may be afraid of any potential repercussions.

"Those that are here that may not have the right documentation, do not be afraid to call 911. We don’t use and share any of that information other than for patient care," Pena said. 

Authorities also say those with underlying conditions like heart disease and diabetes, who are more susceptible to complications from COVID-19, shouldn’t wait too long to call 911 for help either.