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Use of Helicopter Emergency Medical Services in the Transport of Patients With Known or Suspected Coronavirus Disease 2019

Published:February 17, 2021DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.amj.2021.02.003

      Abstract

      Objective

      Limited information exists regarding the response of helicopter emergency medical services (HEMS) programs to patients with known or suspected coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). The purpose of this study was to determine changes in flight operations during the early stages of the pandemic.

      Methods

      A survey of the American College of Emergency Physicians Air Medical Section was conducted between May 13, 2020, and August 1, 2020. COVID-19 prevalence was defined as high versus low based on cases > 2,500 or ≤ 2,500.

      Results

      Of the 48 respondents, the majority (89.6%) reported that their patient guidelines had changed because of COVID-19; 89.6% of programs reported transporting COVID-19–positive patients, whereas 91.5% reported transporting persons under investigation. The majority of respondents reported additional training in COVID-19 airway management (79.2%) and personal protective equipment use (93.6%). Permitted aerosol-generating procedures included bilevel positive airway pressure (40.4%) and high-flow nasal oxygen (66.0%). No difference in guideline changes, positive COVID-19/persons under investigation transport restrictions, or permitted aerosol-generating procedures were noted between high- and low-prevalence settings.

      Conclusion

      COVID-19 has resulted in changes to HEMS guidelines regardless of local disease prevalence. The pandemic has persisted sufficiently long that data regarding the effectiveness of guideline changes should be analyzed. In the absence of definitive data, national best practices should be developed to guide COVID-19 HEMS transport.
      Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is highly contagious and spreads rapidly through human-to-human transmission.

      World Health Organization. Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak. February 18, 2020. Available at: https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019. 2020. Accessed Nov 19, 2020.

      • Pongpirul WA
      • Pongpirul K
      • Ratnarathon AC
      • et al.
      Journey of a Thai taxi driver and novel coronavirus.
      • Li R
      • Pei S
      • Chen B
      • et al.
      Substantial undocumented infection facilitates the rapid dissemination of novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2).
      • Arons MM
      • Hatfield KM
      • Reddy SC
      • et al.
      Presymptomatic SARS-CoV-2 infections and transmission in a skilled nursing facility.
      As of 16 November 2020, 11,114,151 COVID-19 cases have been reported in the United States, with 246,758 deaths.

      Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. COVID-19 United States cases by county. Available at: https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/us-map. Accessed November 16, 2020.

      Most infections are mild or asymptomatic.
      • Tenforde MW
      • Rose EB
      • Lindsell CJ
      • et al.
      Characteristics of adult outpatients and inpatients with COVID-19—11 academic medical centers, United States, March––May 2020.
      • Wang Y
      • Liu Y
      • Liu L
      • Wang X
      • Luo N
      • Ling L
      Clinical outcome of 55 asymptomatic cases at the time of hospital admission infected with SARS-coronavirus-2 in Shenzhen, China.
      • Yang X
      • Yu Y
      • Xu J
      • et al.
      Clinical course and outcomes of critically ill patients with SARS-CoV-2 pneumonia in Wuhan, China: a single-centered, retrospective, observational study.
      However, some patients, particularly the elderly or those with cardiovascular or respiratory comorbidities, may experience severe hypoxia and acute respiratory failure.
      • Arentz M
      • Yim E
      • Klaff L
      • et al.
      Characteristics and outcomes of 21 critically ill patients with COVID-19 in Washington State.

      Jackson BR, Gold JAW, Natarajan P, et al. Predictors at admission of mechanical ventilation and death in an observational cohort of adults hospitalized with COVID-19. Clin Infect Dis. https://doi.org/10.1093/cid/ciaa1459.

      • Chow N
      • Fleming-Dutra K
      • Gierke R
      • et al.
      Preliminary estimates of the prevalence of selected underlying health conditions among patients with coronavirus disease 2019 — United States, February 12–March 28, 2020.
      As part of their care, these patients may require transport to tertiary care facilities with advanced capabilities, including extracorporeal membrane oxygenation.
      • Barbaro RP
      • MacLaren G
      • Boonstra PS
      • et al.
      Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation support in COVID-19: an international cohort study of the Extracorporeal Life Support Organization registry.
      Before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, helicopter emergency medical services (HEMS) were frequently used to transfer critically ill patients to tertiary care centers.
      • Di Rocco D
      • Pasquier M
      • Albrecht E
      • et al.
      HEMS inter-facility transfer: a case-mix analysis.
      • Lukovits TG
      • Von Iderstine SL
      • Brozen R
      • et al.
      Interhospital helicopter transport for stroke.
      • Thomas SH
      • Arthur AO
      Helicopter EMS: research endpoints and potential benefits.
      COVID-19 has created unprecedented risk on prehospital providers in terms of potential transmission risks to transporting crews. As a respiratory virus, COVID-19 poses a risk to care providers, particularly during high-risk aerosol-generating procedures (AGPs), including endotracheal intubation, nasotracheal suctioning, bilevel positive airway pressure, and high-flow nasal oxygenation.
      • Cournoyer A
      • Grand'Maison S
      • Lonergan AM
      • et al.
      Oxygen therapy and risk of infection for health care workers caring for patients with viral severe acute respiratory infection: a systematic review and meta-analysis.
      The nature of HEMS transport has raised additional concerns for the transport of known COVID-19 patients or persons under investigation (PUIs) in regard to crew safety and airframe contamination. Transmission during commercial air travel has been already documented.
      • Khanh NC
      • Thai PQ
      • Quach H-L
      • et al.
      Transmission of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 during long flight.
      In contrast with commercial jets, HEMS cabin space is limited, as is air recirculation.
      Limited information exists regarding the response of HEMS programs to patients with known or suspected COVID-19. Given the level of uncertainty regarding current HEMS practices for the treatment and transportation of COVID-19 patients/PUIs, the purpose of the current study was to determine changes in US-based HEMS flight operations during the early stages of the current pandemic.

      Methods

      Study Design and Setting

      An anonymous online survey of the American College of Emergency Physicians Air Medical Section was conducted using the REDCap (Center for Clinical and Translational Science Awards, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, MN) survey platform. The survey was administered between May 13, 2020, and August 1, 2020. An initial survey e-mail was sent on May 13, 2020, with 2 reminder e-mails sent before survey conclusion on August 1, 2020. The study was reviewed by the institutional review board and deemed exempt.

      Survey

      The survey consisted of 23 multiple-choice questions (Table 1). PUI status was defined as suspected but unconfirmed COVID-19 status. Demographic measures were collected, including operating region, provider model, annual transport volume, and reported COVID-19 cases within the service area. The operating region was defined as following using the Association of Air Medical Services criteria:
      • 1
        Alaska, California, Guam, Hawaii, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington
      • 2
        Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming
      • 3
        Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wisconsin
      • 4
        Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Texas
      • 5
        Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Indiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Vermont
      • 6
        Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Puerto Rico, South Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia
      • 7
        International: Canada; Mexico; the Caribbean; and other countries in North America, Central America, South America, and Europe
      • 8
        International: Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Asia, and Antarctica
      Table 1Helicopter Emergency Medical Services in Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Transport Survey Questions
      • 1.
        Have your patient care guidelines changed due to COVID-19?
      •  Yes
      •  No
      • 2.
        Does your program have a formal written policy/plan for COVID-19 response?
      •  Yes
      •  No
      • 3.
        Does your program fly known COVID-19 positive patients?
      •  Yes
      •  No
      • 4.
        If you fly known positive COVID-19 patients, do you use an isolation pod/containment device?
      •  Yes
      •  No
      •  Not applicable
      • 5.
        If you fly known positive COVID-19 patients, do you require that the patient be intubated prior to transfer?
      •  Yes
      •  No
      •  Not applicable
      • 6.
        Do you fly patients meeting COVID-19 screening criteria for Persons Under Investigation (i.e. suspected but unconfirmed COVID-19 status)?
      •  Yes
      •  No
      • 7.
        Do you require a negative COVID-19 test prior to transport of patients with suspected COVID-19?
      •  Yes
      •  No
      • 8.
        If you do not transport known or suspected COVID-19 patients via helicopter, do you use your aircraft to transport medical personnel to the patient and then return via ground EMS?
      •  Yes
      •  No
      • 9.
        In your aircraft, are you able to completely separate the cockpit from the patient care compartment?
      •  Yes
      •  No
      •  I do not know
      • 10.
        How is the separation achieved?
      •  No separation
      •  Curtain
      •  Modified separation (plastic sheet)
      •  Hard separation (wall)
      •  Isolation pod
      •  Other
      • 11.
        Do you require that your pilot wear PPE during known or suspected COVID-19 transfers?
      •  Yes
      •  No
      •  Not applicable
      • 12.
        If you do require your pilot to wear PPE, what PPE do you require? Select all that apply
      •  Cloth mask
      •  Surgical face mask
      •  N95 mask
      •  PAPR
      •  Eye protection (goggles or face shield)
      •  Gown
      •  Gloves
      • 13.
        Do you permit any of the following moderate-to-high-risk aerosol-generating procedures during known or suspected COVID-19 patient transport? Select all that apply.
      •  Endotracheal intubation/mechanical ventilation with a closed HEPA filter circuit
      •  Endotracheal intubation/mechanical ventilation without a closed HEPA filter circuit
      •  Supraglottic device (eg. iGel, King LT-D) with a closed HEPA filter circuit
      •  Supraglottic device (eg. iGel, King LT-D) without a closed HEPA filter circuit
      •  Non-Invasive Positive Pressure Ventilation (NIPPV, eg BiPAP, CPAP) with a HEPA filter
      •  Non-Invasive Positive Pressure Ventilation (NIPPV, eg BiPAP, CPAP) without a HEPA filter
      •  Nebulizer treatment without breath actuation
      •  High flow oxygen delivered > 6 LPM
      • 14.
        Have you had specific training in airway management in the suspected COVID-19 patient?
      •  Yes
      •  No
      • 15.
        Do you perform specific interventions to prepare the patient care compartment for known or suspected COVID-19 patients, such as removing unnecessary equipment or placing plastic coverings? Please comment below.
      • 16.
        Do you perform additional aircraft cleaning/decontamination procedures after transporting known or suspected COVID-19 patients?
      •  Yes
      •  No
      • 17.
        Have you changed your guidelines for scene flight responses for trauma patients because of potential for COVID-19 exposure?
      •  Yes
      •  No
      • 18.
        Have you had specific training in PPE use?
      •  Yes
      •  No
      • 19.
        Have you had N95 fit-testing?
      •  Yes
      •  No
      • 20.
        In which region do you primarily operate?
      •  Region 1: Alaska, California, Guam, Hawaii, Nevada, Oregon, Washington
      •  Region 2: Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming
      •  Region 3: Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wisconsin
      •  Region 4: Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas
      •  Region 5: Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Indiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont
      •  Region 6: Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Puerto Rico, South Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia
      •  Region 7: International: Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, and other countries in North America, Central America, South America, and Europe
      •  Region 8: International: Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Asia, Antarctica
      • 21.
        Approximately how many COVID-19 cases have been reported in your region or service area?
      •  0-500
      •  501-1000
      •  1001-2500
      •  2501-5000
      •  5001-10000
      •  10001 or more
      •  I don't know
      • 22.
        Which best describes your provider model?
      •  Hospital
      •  Independent
      •  Public
      •  Other
      • 23.
        Approximately how many COVID-19 cases have been reported in your region or service area?
      •  Less than 500
      •  501-1000
      •  1001-1500
      •  1501-2000
      •  2001-2500
      •  2501-5000
      •  5001-7500
      •  7501-10000
      •  Greater than 10000
      •  I don't know
      BiPAP, bilevel positive airway pressure; CPAP, continuous positive airway pressure; EMS, emergency medical services; HEPA, high-efficiency particulate air; LPM, liters per minute; PAPR, powered air-purifying respirator; PPE, personal protective equipment.
      Only responses from regions 1 through 6 were included in the final data analysis. COVID-19 prevalence was defined as high versus low based on cases > 2,500 or ≤ 2,500, respectively.

      Data Analysis

      Survey responses were summarized as frequency counts and percentages. Comparisons of survey responses between groups were performed using the Fisher exact and Kruskal-Wallis tests. All tests were 2-sided, with P values less than .05 considered significant.

      Results

      A total of 48 respondents completed the survey (Tables 2 and 3). Forty-seven respondents reported that their organizations (97.9%) had a formal written policy/plan for COVID-19 response, and 43 (89.6%) reported that their organization had changed their patient care guidelines because of COVID-19.
      Table 2Respondent Demographics
      Respondent Distribution
      %N
      Provider model
       Hospital63.830
       Independent19.19
       Public6.43
       Other10.65
      Number of COVID-19 cases in the region of respondents
       0-50014.67
       501-1,00014.67
       1,001-2,50016.78
       2,501-5,0006.33
       5,001-10,00020.810
       10,001 or more20.810
      Not known6.33
      Approximate annual transport volume of the respondent's institute
       Less than 50012.56
       501-1,00010.45
       1,001-1,50018.89
       1,501-2,00022.911
       2,001-2,5006.33
       2,501-5,00012.56
       5,001-7,5004.22
       7,501-10,0002.11
       Greater than 10,0008.34
       Not known2.11
      COVID-19, coronavirus disease 2019.
      Table 3Respondents by Association of Air Medical Services (AAMS) Region
      AAMS

      Region
      States/Countries IncludedNo. of Respondents
      1Alaska, California, Guam, Hawaii, Nevada, Oregon, Washington2
      2Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming5
      3Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wisconsin12
      4Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas5
      5Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Indiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, 45

      New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont
      17
      6Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Puerto Rico, South Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia6
      7International region including Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, and other countries in North America, 5

      Central America, South America, Africa, and Europe
      0
      8International region including Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Asia, and Antarctica0
      Total47
      Forty-three (89.6%) of the respondents reported that their HEMS programs transported COVID-19–positive patients (Table 4). For HEMS programs that did not permit the transport of COVID-19 patients, 18.2% reported that they used the aircraft to transport critical care teams to the patient and then returned via ground-based emergency medical services (EMS). Seventeen (35.4%) respondents reported that their airframe permitted complete separation of the cockpit from the patient care compartment. Two respondents (4.2%) reported the use of an isolation pod/containment device when flying known positive COVID-19 patients. Seven (14.6%) respondents required COVID-19–positive patients to be intubated before transfer. Forty-seven (97.9%) respondents permitted the use of moderate- to high-risk AGPs during the transport of known or suspected COVID-19 patients. Thirty-eight (79.2%) respondents reported specific training in airway management in the suspected COVID-19 patient, and 44 (93.6%) reported specific training in personal protective equipment (PPE) use.
      Table 4Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Transportation Guidelines and Crew Protection Modalities
      Number of Affirmative Responses (%)
      Transport COVID-19–positive patients43 (89.6)
      Transport critical care teams to the patient4 (18.2)
      Ability to complete separation of the cockpit from the patient care compartment17 (35.4)
      Use of an isolation pod or containment device when flying known positive COVID-19 patients2 (4.2)
      Require COVID-19–positive patients to be intubated before transfer7 (14.6)
      Permit the use of moderate- to high-risk aerosol-generating procedures during transport of known or suspected COVID-19 patients47 (97.9)
      Report specific training in airway management in the suspected COVID-19 patient38 (79.2)
      reported specific training in PPE use44 (93.6)
      Require pilots to use PPE46 (93.3)
       Surgical face mask7 (15.6)
       N95 mask43 (95.6)
       PAPR0
       Eye protection22 (48.9)
       Gown5 (11.1)
       Gloves8 (17.8)
      PAPR, powered air-purifying respirator; PPE, personal protective equipment.
      When comparing respondents reporting more than 2,500 regional COVID-19 cases with those reporting less than or equal to 2,500 cases, no significant difference was noted in terms of changes to patient care guidelines (P = 1.0), transport policies regarding known COVID-19 patients (P = .649), required intubation before transport (P = .118), the use of moderate- to high-risk AGPs (P = .940), and additional airway management training (P = .478).
      No differences in the transport of COVID-19 patients (P = .643), PPE requirements for pilots (P = 1.0), airway management (P = .225), or AGP (P = .165) restrictions were noted based on the ability to separate cockpit from patient care compartments.
      Twenty-one respondents (43.8%) reported guideline changes for scene flight responses for trauma patients because of the potential for COVID-19 exposure. No difference was noted between programs with high or low COVID-19 prevalence (P = .393).

      Discussion

      The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in 54,785,073 cases and 1,322,400 deaths globally.

      Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. COVID-19 United States cases by county. Available at: https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/us-map. Accessed November 16, 2020.

      Individuals suffering from COVID-19 have the potential for severe respiratory decompensation, requiring critical care transport, including air medical transport. Previous studies have suggested that frontline medical care providers caring for these patients may be at significance risk of subsequent infection.
      • Nguyen LH
      • Drew DA
      • Graham MS
      • et al.
      Risk of COVID-19 among front-line health-care workers and the general community: a prospective cohort study.
      ,
      • Prezant DJ Z-OR
      • Schwartz T
      • et al.
      Medical leave associated with COVID-19 among emergency medical system responders and firefighters in New York City.
      Given the advanced level of care provided by HEMS and the small, poorly ventilated space of the patient care compartment, potential for COVID infection during HEMS transport remains a concern. COVID-19 transmission during commercial air travel has already been reported.
      • Khanh NC
      • Thai PQ
      • Quach H-L
      • et al.
      Transmission of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 during long flight.
      Infections during flights can be transmitted not only by aerosols that remain airborne and can be inhaled but also by large droplets that settle on surfaces or by direct contact with secretions, body fluids, or contaminated surfaces.
      Several recent articles have highlighted HEMS use in the transport of European COVD-19 patients.
      • Albrecht R
      • Knapp J
      • Theiler L
      • Eder M
      • Pietsch U
      Transport of COVID-19 and other highly contagious patients by helicopter and fixed-wing air ambulance: a narrative review and experience of the Swiss air rescue Rega.
      ,

      Lampedusa. Migrant with coronavirus gives birth in helicopter. Available at: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-53993465/. Accessed November 19, 2020.

      However, little is known about changes to US HEMS programs as a consequence of COVID-19. Several articles have commented on changes secondary to COVID, but no formal studies have been performed.

      Parsons D, Fedy D. Coronavirus forces helicopter EMS safety strictures. Available at: https://verticalmag.com/news/coronavirus-helicopter-ems-safety-measures/. Accessed November 19, 2020.

      Air Medical Physician Association Board of Trustees
      Air Medical Physician Association position statement on COVID-19.
      • Martin T
      Updated: patient air transport during the Covid-19 pandemic.
      • Osborn MD
      • Meyer D
      • Dahm P
      • et al.
      Integration of aeromedicine in the response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
      Based on responses to the current study, the majority of HEMS providers have instituted COVID-19 patient care protocols. Almost 98% of respondents indicated the presence of a formal written policy/plan. Moreover, almost 90% reported that their program had altered patient care guidelines as a direct consequence of COVID-19.
      Despite the potential for COVID-19 transmission, nearly 90% of respondents in the current study reported that their programs transported patients with known COVID-19. Given the concern for droplet spread during AGPs, critical care guidelines during the early period of the pandemic emphasized rapid airway control via endotracheal intubation and ventilation using a high-efficiency particulate air filter.
      • Brewster DJ
      • Chrimes N
      • Do TB
      • et al.
      Consensus statement: Safe Airway Society principles of airway management and tracheal intubation specific to the COVID-19 adult patient group.
      • Cheung JC
      • Ho LT
      • Cheng JV
      • et al.
      Staff safety during emergency airway management for COVID-19 in Hong Kong.
      • Lin LW
      • Hung TY
      Swivel-HEPA-ETT (SHE) bougie and HEPA-ETT (HE) methods for safe intubation while managing patients with COVID-19.
      Approximately 15% of respondents stated that endotracheal intubation was required before COVID-19 patient transport. Further research is needed to investigate whether a low threshold for intubation could decrease COVID-19 transmission in HEMS aircraft. A recent systematic review demonstrated that most supplemental modalities increased the risk of COVID-19 transmission.
      • Cournoyer A
      • Grand'Maison S
      • Lonergan AM
      • et al.
      Oxygen therapy and risk of infection for health care workers caring for patients with viral severe acute respiratory infection: a systematic review and meta-analysis.
      In our study, nearly 80% reported that moderate- to high-risk AGPs remain permitted during the transport of known or suspected COVID-19 patients.
      In the current study, 93.6% of respondents reported COVID-19–specific PPE training. Although the nature of the training, and therefore the efficacy, cannot be determined in this study, it demonstrates an awareness of a knowledge gap and need. Almost all respondents (93.3%) reported that HEMS pilots were also using PPE, predominantly N95 masks (95.6%), goggles or a face shield (48.9%), and gloves (17.8%). Preliminary EMS data suggest that the use of PPE is at least partly effective in mitigating the COVD-19 infection risk. In a study of King County medics during the early period of the COVID-19 pandemic, less than 0.5% of EMS providers experienced COVID-19 illness within 14 days of occupational exposure.
      • Murphy DL
      • Barnard LM
      • Drucker CJ
      • et al.
      Occupational exposures and programmatic response to COVID-19 pandemic: an emergency medical services experience.
      The HEMS response to the COVID-19 pandemic appears to be universal and not simply based on the prevalence of cases. No difference in response was noted based on high- and low-prevalence service areas.
      More than half of the respondents (56.3%) reported no specific changes to guidelines for field care and the transportation of trauma patients. Given the potential for the patients to have COVID-19 and either be unable to complete a screen or be asymptomatic, further evaluation of trauma response guidelines should occur, particularly as case numbers increase.

      Limitations

      This study has several important limitations. This survey was sent to a single US-based emergency medicine physician section. As such, it is not comprehensive of all HEMS programs and is biased to programs with emergency medicine physician involvement. The number of respondents is smaller than the number of current US Commission on Accreditation of Medical Transport Systems HEMS programs (128, including pediatric- and neonatal-specific HEMS programs), with potential for sampling bias. The study is unable to evaluate for compliance with operational guidelines and is subject to respondent recall bias. The actual roles of the respondents within HEMS cannot be verified because the responses were anonymous. The study evaluated HEMS during the early phases of the pandemic only and arbitrarily defined prevalence in the early period of the pandemic as high or low based on the number of cases > 2,500 or ≤ 2,500, respectively. Given the prolonged duration of the pandemic, policies and protocols may have evolved significantly as experience with COVID-19 patients has grown. Most importantly, there are no definitive data to evaluate the effectiveness of guideline changes in protecting patients and crew. A recent retrospective critical care transport program analysis demonstrated that despite 1,041 PUI transports, guideline changes resulted in no documented staff exposures or illnesses.

      Garfinkel E, Lopez S, Troncoso R Jr, et al. A critical care transport program's innovative approach to safety during the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic. Air Med J. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.amj.2020.12.002.

      However, only 11 of these involved air medical transport. Further research should be performed to define the most effective way to protect the crew while transporting COVID-19–positive patients or PUIs.

      Conclusion

      COVID-19 has resulted in changes to HEMS patient care guidelines regardless of local disease prevalence. The pandemic has persisted sufficiently long that data regarding the effectiveness of guideline changes in protecting patients and crew should be identified and analyzed. In the absence of definitive data, national best practices should be developed to guide HEMS transport in the era of COVID-19. Further study is needed to investigate the actual impact of protective measures in use.

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