How to be a Red Cross lifesaver – safely

By Gordon Williams

The American Red Cross is always there in times of need—including during the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s our hope that, in an emergency, there will always be trained individuals nearby, ready to use their Red Cross skills to save lives.

Would you know how to provide that assistance if called on? Would you know how to do so safely? While providing care has very low risk and it’s likely you will be helping a friend or family member, it is still vital to know how to take steps to minimize risk from the coronavirus.

To help you cope with a medical emergency, should you come across one, we talked to Shawna Macauley—a veteran of 23 years teaching Red Cross classes in first aid, cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and more.

Ideally, you have taken a course in first aid and CPR. If not, use this stay-at-home time to take a course and gain a valuable skill. Because these courses are deemed essential activities, they are still being taught, where permitted, with social (physical) distancing approaches and under Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), public health authority and American Red Cross Scientific Advisory Council guidance. You’ll find a list of available classes at www.redcross.org/take-a-class. Classes may be in person in a classroom, online or blended (the course is online, but your skills will be tested by an instructor face-to-face). Provisional certification courses are also available. To help those who are currently certified, we are now offering a free online-only 120-day extension course.

Download the Red Cross First Aid App, available free online at both the Apple store and Google Play for instant access on what to do for a variety of situations from cuts and scrapes to CPR.

Even if you don’t have Red Cross training, you can still help in a medical emergency. The First Aid App is there to help and just remember ‘Check, Call, Care.’  The first step, says Macauley, is to check what is going on and make sure it is safe, then call 9-1-1.

“When you call 9-1-1, it starts the process of getting help on the way and, in most communities, the dispatcher will talk you through the steps you need to take,” Macauley says. “If you suspect poison is involved, he or she can transfer you to the Poison Control Center.” After calling 9-1-1, have someone get a first aid kit It most likely will have some instructions with it. [use the first aid app or ask Alexa for more information]

Macauley reminds you to remember the ‘3 Cs’ of emergency assistance.

  1. Check out the scene for risks you might be exposed to, and so you know what to tell the 9-1-1 operator;
  2. Call 9-1-1 for help and get a first aid kit and an AED; [or ask someone else to do it]
  3. Care for the patient until help arrives.

Check out the scene and what is going on with the person.

Look for signs of what is happening such as signs of injury or illness. These would include pain, bleeding, burns, bruising, swelling, etc. Pass along anything relevant to the 9-1-1 dispatcher. If there are life-threatening conditions, you may have to act before help arrives.

If there is heavy bleeding, Macauley says to put pressure on the wound with whatever you have on hand to stop the flow of blood. You need to apply a lot of pressure to stop bleeding so while it may cause the person pain, put your full body weight over the area bleeding until the bleeding stops. Keep pressure on the wound until help arrives; if you need to pause to talk to the 9-1-1 dispatcher, you can use your knee to apply pressure or have someone else apply the pressure until you return.

You will need to start CPR if the patient is not breathing. According to David Markenson, MD, Chief Medical Officer for American Red Cross Training Services, “In the setting of COVID-19 and the possible risk of transmission, it is currently recommended that lay responders do not give rescue breaths to adult cardiac arrest patients with confirmed or suspected COVID-19. We recommend that they perform continuous Compression-Only CPR until emergency personnel arrive.”

February 21-22, 2018. Washington, DC CPR Classroom Stock Video and Photography Shoot 2018 Photos by Dennis Drenner/American Red Cross

“Cardiac arrests that occur after a breathing problem, which is often the case in infants and young children, drowning, and drug overdoses, may benefit from standard CPR that include compressions and rescue breaths. Keep in mind, that in some of the cases the victim may also have COVID-19. If a lay responder is unable or unwilling to provide rescue breathing with CPR, Compression-Only CPR should be initiated,” Markenson added.

He also stated that during the COVID-19 pandemic, personal protective equipment (PPE) such as gloves and a face mask should be worn by lay responders while performing CPR, if available. “We recognize that for lay responders, CPR is often performed for household members where there would have already been close contact and exposure.”

The Red Cross has developed several COVID-19 resources including our new online Psychological First Aid: Supporting Yourself and Others During COVID-19 course to help you manage stress while caring for yourself and supporting your family and coworkers.

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