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Two emergency medical technicians, the patient, the gurney — and an unseen and unwelcome passenger lurking in the air.
For EMTs Thomas Hoang and Joshua Hammond, the coronavirus is constantly close.
COVID-19 has become their biggest fear during 24-hour shifts in California's Orange County, riding with them from 911 call to 911 call, from patient to patient.
They and other EMTs, paramedics and 911 dispatchers in Southern California have been thrust into the front lines of the national epicenter of the pandemic.
STATES REPORT COVID-19 VACCINE SHORTAGES AND CANCEL APPOINTMENTSThey gown up, mask up and glove up, "but you can only be so safe," Hammond said.
Statistics on COVID-19 cases and deaths among EMTs and paramedics — especially ones employed by private companies — are hard to find.
Hammond and Hoang work for Emergency Ambulance Service Inc., a private ambulance company in Southern California.
Sometimes, people know they're infected and tell 911 dispatchers before the EMTs arrive.
When an EMT reports a positive COVID-19 test, the dispatchers must find a way to cover the ambulance's calls if the whole crew must quarantine.
When one household has multiple coronavirus patients requiring two ambulances, the dispatchers have to plug the hole.
Their greatest fear is what's called a "level zero" — when there are no ambulances left to send to an emergency.
And they wonder what fresh horror awaits in a virus-ravaged world where the dangers are too many and the ambulances are too few.

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