Coronavirus pandemic 'taking its toll' on New York City EMTs: 'There’s just a lot more panic in people’s voices'

Jon San
Producer, Yahoo Entertainment

New York City EMT Arthur Persaud is used to showing up to the unknown, as it’s part of the job. But ever since the coronavirus pandemic began to ravage New York City, fear and hesitation has crept into each and every 911 call he responds to.

“We’re definitely responding with much more caution,” he tells Yahoo Lifestyle. Persaud, a member of NYC EMS (Emergency Medical Services), has served the South Bronx for 15 years and says that area residents are terrified. “There’s just a lot more panic in people’s voices,” he says. “They don’t know what to do. It’s scary to me, it’s frightening.”

Paranoia and a lack of information doesn’t help the situation either. Some underprivileged areas rely on 911 for the slightest health concern. “They don’t have a doctor to pick up the phone and call,” says Persaud. “We are their pediatricians, we are their doctors.”

The glut of calls has even set an NYC record, exceeding those placed on 9/11. Persaud says that on March 26 EMS received 7,100 calls, an “insane amount.” Comparatively, he says, around 6,000 calls were placed on 9/11.

“Right now EMS and medical services are stretched to the absolute brink,” he says. “I don’t know a solution to it [but] I do know that everyone is busting their hump.”

Arthur Persaud, an EMT, husband, and father of two, has been at the frontlines of New York City's fight against the coronavirus. (Photo: Courtesy of Arthur Persaud)

These workers’ sacrifices extend beyond coming into contact with the coronavirus on a daily basis. In addition to foregoing bathroom and meal breaks, many EMS members are booking hotel rooms and Airbnbs in the city to protect their families from infection, paying for them out of pocket. 

“EMS is not provided with sleeping quarters at all,” Persaud says. As a husband and father of two, he’s stayed with a friend in Queens who has an empty floor available following his shifts, which can last up to 16 hours.

“I don’t want to bring [the coronavirus] back to [my kids], I don’t want to bring it back to my wife, my parents, my grandparents,” he says. “It’s a little tough explaining why dad’s not coming home for chunks at a time.”

And even though the nation is fixed on the pandemic, EMTs are not solely beholden to the coronavirus.

“We are still doing our basic job,” says Persaud. “If someone has a mental issue, we are there, if someone has a heart attack, we’re still there. If someone, God forbid gets shot or stabbed, we’re still there. We’re still doing all that stuff, and taking you to the hospital for your cough and cold.”

For the latest coronavirus news and updates, follow along at According to experts, people over 60 and those who are immunocompromised continue to be the most at risk. If you have questions, please reference the CDC and WHO’s resource guides.