SASKATOON -- The steady rise of COVID-19 infections isn’t just affecting hospitals and healthcare centres - it’s also being felt by Shock Trauma Air Rescue Services (STARS) Air Ambulance.

“While our mission volumes have stayed the same the mission volumes for this influenza-like illness patients, which would include COVID-suspect patients has gone up,” said chief medical officer Dr. JN Armstrong.

Interfacility transfers and medical transfers make up 50 per cent of STARS calls on an average year. Of those, around seven per cent are calls for those suffering from a respiratory illness such as influenza and more recently COVID-19.

Armstrong said calls for respiratory illnesses have more than doubled recently to about 13 per cent last month and even as high as 18 per cent this last week, he said.

“It’s a significant increase for us and I think like all of our healthcare systems that are dealing with this, has seen an impact as well.”

STARS has increased its safety measures as well, equipping all medical and transport staff with N95 masks, face shields and protective gowns. Crews also completely sanitize and clean the transport vehicles after each call.

While the increase for respiratory illness calls has increased, Armstrong said it hasn’t affected STARS’ ability to respond to trauma calls.

“The call volume reflects local outbreaks in our broader areas, but it has not impacted our normal mission volume,” he said.

“We’ve been able to cope, we are well prepared, our crews are well-trained and familiar with this level of critical care and intervention.”